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Mr. Cook: Well, on both sides, in fairness to my hon. Friend. I always try to build consensus, even if it sometimes eludes me. I repeat that this morning's statement was not made by Government, and it is not Government policy. We had no control over its timing, and I recognise the concern to which it has given rise.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Last week, I raised with the Leader of the House an issue relating to correspondence with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Today, I have received the following letter from the Department:
Mr. Cook: I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be very grateful for that advice, which I will draw to her attention. We will also make sure that the correspondence unit at DEFRA has an adequate map of the British isles.
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Is my right hon. Friend aware that children as young as nine are being issued with firearms certificates in this country? Does he share my concern that some shooting bodies, in an effort to boost recruitment, feature children as young as three in magazines and on websites, posing with guns and dead animals, and sometimes smeared with blood? Is it not time that we introduced an age restriction and tougher guidance on children's access to firearms? Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on this matter?
Mr. Cook: The whole House will share my surprise that there is access to licensed weapons at the age to which my hon. Friend refers. Weapons are dangerous enough in the hands of some adults, without letting them into the hands of children. I shall certainly draw the important point raised by my hon. Friend to the attention of the Home Office.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): It is all very well for the Leader of the House to agree with the remarks about Zimbabwe by my hon. Friends the Members for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) and for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), but he shows no sign of urging the Government to grant a debate in Government time or make a statement on the terrible situation there. The Government have done too little, too late to protest about Zimbabwe, and the failure of the Commonwealth
Mr. Cook: I wholly repudiate what the hon. Gentleman says about our record on Zimbabwe. We have taken every possible step to bring home to the Government of President Mugabe our deep concern and alarm at the state of affairs within the country. We have wound up all economic assistance to that Government, while maintaining humanitarian aid, and we have withdrawn our military team from the country. We have acted against Zimbabwe in the European Union, where we have now secured a consensus in favour of economic sanctions if we do not secure free and fair elections, and we have started a debate in the Commonwealth, in which yesterday we got the support of 50 per cent. of those present. We are vigorously taking action and leading international opinion on this matter. Frankly, the hon. Gentleman does not help his cause or those on whose behalf he claims to be speaking by trying to undermine the degree of the concern felt by the Government and the people.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling): Will my right hon. Friend arrange a statement or an early debate on young people's participation in politics? He will know that the UK Youth Parliament had a meeting here yesterday. Surely one of the most important issues facing us all must be the apparent lack of interest in this place shown by our young people. It is one of the most important debates in which we in this Chamber could engage.
Mr. Cook: I shall certainly reflect on how we can take forward that discussion among ourselves. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of drawing young people into participation in politics. All of us, whatever view we take of the result and whatever side of the House we sit on, must be concerned about the substantial reduction, at the last election, in the number of young people who voted. We must all find ways in which we can engage their interest and participation to ensure that, next time, there is a higher turnout by young people.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I join, on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, the voices in the House calling for further debate on the Post Office.
I remind the Leader of the House that Scottish Members have in the past complained about too many English Members asking questions at Scottish questions. In fact, on one occasion, a Member said, "I spy strangers." May I press the right hon. Gentleman to consider that, for some time, now, Northern Ireland Members who have tabled questions for answer at Northern Ireland questions have not been coming up in the first five and thus do not get their question answered in the House? I thank the Speaker, who has been very helpful in trying to give Northern Ireland Members an opportunity to speak at Northern Ireland questions. This is an important issue,
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the important principle that this is a United Kingdom Parliament in which all Members are equal. I understand the frustration to which he refers, but I am not sure that it is within the gift of myself, the Speaker or indeed the Clerks to achieve a different outcome. The placing of questions on the Order Paper results from a random ballot, and if we tamper with that ballot, it is not only Northern Ireland questions that I will find myself receiving questions about.
Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Further to the question that I asked my right hon. Friend on 8 November about Zephyr Camsa company that is now in receivershipdoes he agree that it is a scandal that, while the 65 people who have lost their jobs are still owed wages and have not received any redundancy money, with the possibility that the taxpayer may have to pick up the bill, the owner of the company, Mr. Kenny Joseph of Wells Industries, New Jersey, remains unscathed, enjoying the luxury of his multi-million pound apartment in New York and his even more expensive house in The Hamptons? Can we have a debate on insolvency law, especially as that individual did the same sort of thing with two other companies in Weston-super-Mare a few years ago?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend has raised that distressing case before, and I am glad that he has had the opportunity to ventilate it again in the House; he draws attention to what must be a local scandal in his constituency. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is currently examining insolvency and bankruptcy law, and I will draw her attention to the observations that my hon. Friend has made about that case.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): When can we have a debate to discuss the Government's total indifference to the plight of small firms being put out of business by Government regulation? Is the Leader of the House aware of the plight of firms involved in the British embalming industry and the impact on that industry of the biocide products directive? Is he aware that, in the opinion of the British Institute of Embalmers, the regulation will,
Mr. Cook: I must confess that I am not up to speed on the present position in relation to the British embalming industry, but I shall try to rectify that as quickly as I can after this exchange. I will certainly speak to the appropriate Secretary of State to ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets his reply. I can assure the House that the Government do not intend, as he put it, to return to the days of rotting corpses at the time of the funeral. We will certainly ensure that that does not happen.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): Given that the 400th anniversary of the gunpowder plot will occur in 2005,
[That this House notes the increasing nuisance caused by reckless and dangerous use of fireworks, and that the sale of fireworks is taking place for many weeks before 5th November; further notes that the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot will occur in 2005; and believes that before that date the Government should bring forward legislation better to regulate and restrict the sale of fireworks.]