|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): May we have an early debate on the new White Paper on immigration? We have a crisis in Kent, with the largest concentration of vulnerable unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. That problem is compounded by the fact that the Government's monstrous standard spending assessment system values a child in London at three times the rate of a child in Kent. The combination of local deprivation and large numbers of unaccompanied minors seeking asylumtogether with the many children in care who are sent to us by London authoritiesis creating a crisis that is getting progressively worse.
Mr. Cook: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the House exploring the matter further, and we will have many opportunities to do so when we discuss the Bill that will follow in the White Paper's wake. I am sure that he and many other hon. Members will wish to make their constituency points then.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. We have not set a good standard for brevity so far. I am not going to run this statement for an excessive time, so I ask that questions be as brief as possible.
[That this House notes that there have been numerous and highly credible allegations made of large commission payments made to individuals in Saudi Arabia as part of the Al-Yamamah arms sales to that country; is concerned that the 1992 National Audit Office report into the Al-Yamamah arms sales has been kept secret; further notes that other allegations have been made that Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network have received substantial funds from individuals in Saudi Arabia;
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that next Thursday's defence debate will provide the Government with a good opportunity to arrange publication of the National Audit Office report on the Al-Yamamah contracts, which has been kept secret since 1992. The report almost certainly refers to the payment of kickbacks and commissions as part of that arms deal, some of which may have been used to fund Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a powerful case for publication of that report?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes some rather large claims for a report that neither he nor I have seen. I am in no way able to authenticate what might be in it, but I suggest that we do not speculate too widely. As he says, the report has not been published since it was drawn up in 1992, so there is a long tradition of its not being published that he must displace. However, I am sure that he will take part in the debate and he can press his case then.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): I follow the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) by suggesting strongly to the Leader of the House that the Secretary of State for Health should make a statement on the current vaccination problems, which clearly constitute a crisis. That would allow many of us to express our belief that the national health service should offer parents an informed choice.
Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend's policy is well known, has been stated often in the House and was restated by the Prime Minister only this week. It is that the Government stand firmly behind the MMR as the best way to provide protection for children and protection of the public health. Given that we are providing the MMR vaccine as a matter of policy, and that we believe it to be the best vaccine for the nation and the public, it would be very strange not to continue to say that that is the vaccine on which we should rely.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a way to involve in discussions in the House the four elected Sinn Fein Members? A debate on paramilitary intimidation will take place in Westminster Hall on 14 February, which will include discussion of the forced exiling of many people from Northern Ireland by paramilitary groups. Although the Sinn Fein Members can attend and listen to that debate, they cannot participate, but they could book a Committee Room in which discussion could continue afterwards. That would enable some of us to ask those Members when they will call the dogs off and allow those placed in exile to return.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend has a long record of being robust with Sinn Fein and on the record of the IRA in Northern Ireland, and I congratulate him on the vigour with which he has pursued such matters. One reason why we decided to accept the four elected representatives of
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Is the Leader of the House aware of reports suggesting that payments of up to £150,000 a piece are being urged for Scottish Labour Members of Parliament whose seats might disappear through Boundary Commission adjustments? Does he think it right that Members who lose their seats in that way should be paid up to three times as much as those who lose their seats through retirement or the hazards of the electoral process? If so, why should such payments be made only to Labour Members in Scotland, and not to Members of Parliament throughout the United Kingdom?
Mr. Cook: I shall indeed do so. In the case of my local patch, the Boundary Commission has shown great wisdom, judgment and sense, and I welcome the result. However, in view of the figures that the hon. Gentleman quotes, I may rethink whether I wish to contest my seat.
David Hamilton (Midlothian): Can my right hon. Friend inform me of the truth of some of the reports in the news today about the last deep mine in Scotland, the Longannet complex, which is under threat? Will he ask the Minister for Industry and Energy to make a statement to the House?
Mr. Cook: I had not heard that report before I came to the Chamber. If it is true, I fully understand the enormous concern that it will cause to the many people who work in that pit and to the community surrounding one of the last remaining deep mines in operation. I shall certainly ensure that we convey my hon. Friend's question to my colleague and that an answer is forthcoming today.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): May we have an urgent debate on the future of the BBC, in particular on its political coverage? Is the Leader of the House aware that many people in the House and, indeed, in the BBC are concerned that political coverage will now be sidelined from mainstream radio and television channels? Does he agree that the licence payer deserves to see the way in which the democratic process works? That will not happen if coverage of this place is consigned to minority digital channels.
Mr. Cook: I fully endorse the principle behind the hon. Gentleman's question and the House will be aware that I have repeatedly expressed my concern about the decline in the coverage of Parliament in the written and the broadcast media. He touches on an unusual point of consensus between the Labour and Conservative parties, in that our joint chairs have both written to the BBC chair to point out that the BBC has a public service obligation. It receives funding for that obligation and I hope that it will bear in mind that that obligation requires the BBC to ensure that it adequately and properly covers Parliament.
Mr. Cook: Of course we want to ensure that there is adequate time for parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. For that reason, several times during the proceedings of the Education Bill in Standing Committee we approached the Opposition to offer additional sittings. Indeed, we tabled an additional meeting on 22 January, which turned out not to be necessary as there were no amendments to be debated at that sitting. As for Report, the original programme resolution provided for one day, but we provided for two. When there was difficulty on the first day, we provided an additional two hours on the second day. At every stage, we have responded to requests for additional time. I regret the fact that some of the important provisions in the Bill were not adequately debated, but that was entirely because the Opposition chose to conduct themselves in a way that did not make it possible.