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Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): This month, the worst outbreak of salmonella poisoning in Bolton in more than 50 years occurred in my constituency. Dozens of people have suffered and seven were admitted to hospital, including 80-year-old Ted Ivers, who was in intensive care, his wife Edith and their son-in-law. Will my right hon. Friend join me in sending best wishes to all those who have suffered? A few days ago, the Government published "Getting Ahead of the Curve", which is a strategy compiled by the chief medical officer for combating infectious disease. Will the Government give time to debate that important document?
Mr. Cook: All of them. I presume that my hon. Friend has contacted those affected and has their authority to speak. I send all those affected our best wishes for a speedy recovery. I am sure that the report makes a number of interesting points and recommendations and I have full faith in the Government's plans for coping with infectious diseases. This may be an excellent case for a debate in Westminster Hall on which he might wish to reflect.
Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): Is the Minister aware that bed blocking at Birmingham Heartlands hospital by clients of Birmingham social services department is delaying operations for Solihull patients who also use that hospital? May we have a debate on bed blocking?
Mr. Cook: In fairness to the House, this issue has been ventilated on several occasions and we have had a number of opportunities to examine policy in the NHS. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that those exchanges have shown that both sides of the House recognise that this is a serious issue. That is precisely why the Government have made significant sums of new money available to local authorities, to assist them to move patients into more appropriate care.
This is a problem not just for patients with an acute need for an acute bed, but for the people in those beds who have nowhere more suitable to move to. It is important for both groups that we find a way forward. We are seeking to do that through better management and by providing more money.
Mr. Cook: It would be improper of me, on behalf of the Government, to express a view on that private Bill one way or the other. I am aware that my hon. Friend and some of his colleagues have expressed vigorous views on the Bill. As the Leader of the House, I am content for it to be a matter for the House to decide, and I am sure that my hon. Friend and his colleagues will continue to express their vigorous views.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the vexed question of the proposed Bill to ban tobacco advertising? He will be aware of the growing frustration in Scotland about the Government's inaction on this issue. The Health and Community Care Committee of the Scottish Parliament is considering asking the right hon. Gentleman to give evidence to it and to explain the lack of Government action. What is the status of the proposed Bill, and will the right hon. Gentleman attend that Committee if asked?
Mr. Cook: I read with great interest the press release from the hon. Gentleman's colleague in the Scottish Parliament. Should any such decision be approved by that Committee as a whole, I will reflect on how I can be helpful without straying across the clear boundaries that we set up under the principle of devolution. I am fully seized of the importance of the tobacco Bill, and should an opportunity arise to address that measure during this Session, I will take it.
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend and the House to a candlelight vigil that will take place outside St. Stephen's entrance this evening in memory of the 44 people who have died from deep vein thrombosis related to air travel? I welcome the Government's statement in a written answer this week that they are unequivocally committed to an investigation into the incidence, extent and causation of deep vein thrombosis related to air travel.
It is more than four months since the Civil Aviation Authority placed before Ministers research that it had carried out on aircraft seat spacing, but the House has not had a response. It is important that we get a response, because one of the recommendations of that independent research was that seat spacing in United Kingdom aircraft should be increased immediately.
Mr. Cook: I commend the diligence with which my hon. Friend raises this important matter in the House. I was saying only this morning, when I heard about the vigil, that I was sure that he would raise the matter during business questions. We are seized of the importance of this issue, which is why on 30 November we issued new guidance to passengers and the public on how to minimise the risk of deep vein thrombosis. We remain willing to consider other ways in which we can be of assistance. I will draw my hon. Friend's remarks on seat spacing to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Healthwith perhaps the rider that, as a frequent air traveller, I would welcome more seat space.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): The Leader of the House will recall that yesterday there was a significant debate on Zimbabwe in Westminster Hall, and Opposition Members also questioned the Prime Minister and expressed grave concern about the deteriorating situation in that country. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an absolute assurance that in the coming weeks, in the run-up to the March presidential elections and probably thereafter, when the Mugabe regime will almost certainly behave despicably, Ministers will regularly be available to update the House and to take questions from us?
Mr. Cook: I have no doubt that the House will wish to be kept informed on the issue, and I fully appreciate and share the deep concern in the House about the entirely improper way in which the Mugabe regime is seeking to rig the presidential election. There will be two important meetings next year, a European Union meeting to discuss the EU's approach to Zimbabwe and a meeting of Commonwealth Ministers to discuss the country's place in the Commonwealth. Whether a statement is appropriate is a matter that we will keep under advisement, but I assure Members that we will keep them fully informed of our views and of the action we are taking.
Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the chief medical officer's report on myalgic encephalomyelitisMEwhich was published last week, and is he aware of the effects that it will have for ME sufferers? May we have an early debate on the report on the Floor of the House, and on all the problems that sufferers throughout the country have experienced for far too long? The report in itselfproduced by a working groupgives them hope and encouragement, but I think it should mark the beginning rather than the end of a campaign.
Mr. Cook: I am sure that all ME sufferers will be pleased that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to their case, and to the need for more recognition of, and a better response to, their requirements. I have no plans to arrange
[That this House is dismayed by the report in the Evening Standard of 21st January that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has blocked the appointment of the career civil servant lan Jones as head of media in his Department; notes that his preferred choice, Ms Ann Wallis, is an outsider who is a friend and former colleague of Jo Moore; urges him to abandon this further attempt at politicisation; and fears that if successful, this will bury the impartiality of the Civil Service.]
As that question has been blocked, may I instead ask why the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the roadworks scheduled for September will hinder us from sitting then? We have been informed by the office of the Serjeant at Arms that both the Black Rod's Garden entrance and the Carriage Gates will be open, and that access will be unimpeded. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that such minor roadworks will be an obstacle, what does he think will happen in 2003 and 2004, when massive roadworks are planned for Parliament square as a result of one of the crazy schemes of his former parliamentary colleague, Ken Livingstone?
The main reason for our proposal not to proceed with the change in sittings this year is that it will be convenient for Members who, in good faith, have already made arrangements for September. That includes Mr. Speaker, who has undertaken to fulfil a commitment in Canada. We want him to fulfil that commitment, and also to represent Britain in New York on 11 September.
I personally am strongly committed to ensuring that we make changes in the long recess. After all, I proposed them. I think that they will be convenient to the House, and that the public will be pleased to see us sitting in September. From next year, we shall do so.