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[That this House calls for the Government to come to an agreement with NATO to declassify the information regarding biochemical weapons taken from the aggressors during World War Two which were dumped off the shores of several European countries around the North Sea and in the Baltic; notes that the 50 year period under which such information is kept private is now finished; calls on the Government, other European countries and other responsible nations to make considerable efforts to combat the pollution that is caused by the sunken vessels which are affecting marine life around European shores; notes that the Russians are already taken action on this issue, and believes that the British Government should do likewise.]
I understand that more than 50 years ago, the Americans, the Russians and the British, after seizing trophies from the aggressors in world war two, put biochemical weapons into 65 ships and dumped them all over European waters, some in the Baltic sea, some in the North sea and some off the shores of Sweden and Denmark. As the 50-year period of classification is over, is it possible to have a debate on getting NATO to agree to declassify this information? The Russians have already taken action and found that some of the vessels are leaking Yperite, which is mustard gas, into the marine environment. They are very concerned about it. If that is allowed to continue it could affect three or four generations.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a serious issue, which is clearly of real concern to him. I shall convey his comments about declassifying the documents to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I saw some of the documentation when I was in my previous post and the consensus of international scientific advice is that dumping on the sea bed does not pose a threat to the
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I congratulate the Leader of the House on his gracious apology. I hope that other members of the Cabinet will follow his good example in future. Does he recall that in the debate on the Committee on Standards and Privileges report on 13 February, he promised, at column 222, to reflect on the issue that I raised with him about the compatibility of the ministerial code with the code of behaviour of Members of the House? Is the right hon. Gentleman yet in a position to make a statement on his reflections? Can he give us any indication of when he may be able to make a statement on that review? Who is undertaking the review of the code of ministerial conduct? Can we be assured that there will also be a parallel review of the code relating to ministerial special advisers?
In view of the admission on Tuesday by the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions that he intervened to stipulate the departure terms of Mr. Martin Sixsmith, insisting that Mr. Sixsmith was not to be in receipt of any employment in the civil service in future, does the Leader of the House accept that there is a potential conflict even with the existing code, let alone with the statements made since about the code, particularly in relation to the obligations of a good employer? In view of the substantial evidence that has been added to today that the Secretary of State insisted on equality of treatment as between Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith, can the Leader of the House tell us whether a similar stipulation was applied to her resignationthat is, that she should never be employed in the civil service again?
Mr. Cook: I of course recall the promise that I made to the hon. Gentleman during our debate on the report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges. Indeed, I predicted this morning that the hon. Gentleman would be vigilant in reminding me of it. This is not a matter that can move overnight; as I told the House, we wanted time to consider carefully the serious points that the hon. Gentleman raised. I assure him that I am certainly reflecting on itindeed, I hope that it is not an offence to the English language if I say that I am actively reflecting on it. When I am ready to say something, I will come back to the House and make sure that the hon. Gentleman is advised about it.
As for the Government being a good employer, of course all members of the Cabinet are under an obligation to be good employers in their Department. However, all Members of the Houseparticularly Conservative Members, with their knowledge of business interestsare also aware that the duty of a good employer is to make sure that the Department can function and is not undermined by any employee within that Department. In addition, a good employer is required, perfectly reasonably, to make sure that people in the Department are fulfilling the contract to which they signed up. The resignations the other week have been trawled over extensively. I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at the
David Winnick (Walsall, North): Although I welcome the debate on hunting with dogs, is my right hon. Friend aware that most Labour Memberscertainly not Conservative Memberswould like, by the end of this Parliament, to have in place a ban on hunting with dogs, a barbaric practice that should have been banned long ago? If, at a later stage, this House votes for a measure that the House of Lords will almost certainly vote against, would the Government be willing to use the Parliament Act? Even if only a minority of people in the country were in favour of a ban, the view of my colleagues and me would be no different, but there is a large majority in favour of such a ban. It is in this Parliament that such a practice should come to an end.
Mr. Cook: I am well aware that this issue arouses strong feelings on both sides of the House. I also fully respect the strong views of my hon. Friend which he has held sincerely and deeply for a long time. That is why the Government are providing the opportunity, which we promised in the Queen's Speech, of a free vote to enable the House to express its view. I recognise that it is unlikely that the House is likely to express a different view from when it last voted. It may or may not be the case, however, that in the House of Lords a different conclusion is reached when the Lords consider the three options. After that, the Minister for Rural Affairs will consider how to take the matter forward and find a way of reaching a conclusion, which was the commitment that we made in our manifesto. Until we have made that progress, it would be unwise to speculate on what we will do in the event of failure.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does the Leader of the House accept that there is one item of unfinished business arising from the Jo Moore affair, and I do not thereby refer to the impending reshuffling of the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions? I refer to the leak inquiry which was commissioned many weeks ago to find out who did the public service of revealing to the world the appalling e-mail that Jo Moore put out on 11 September, from which everything else flowed. May we have a statement from the Cabinet Office as to how this leak inquiry is progressing? May we know whether, if the culpritso-calledis eventually identified, that person will suffer the same fate as Martin Sixsmith for daring to expose the truth about the twisters in the DTLR.
It is my understanding that there was no particular inquiry within the Transport Department. [Hon. Members: "Why not?"] I merely[Hon. Members: "Oh.] It could be that I am over-extending myself, but I would not expect such an inquiry to produce a particular result. What is important is that we make a success of ensuring that the Transport Department works together to meet the needs
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): The suggestion that the debates on hunting are a sop that has been flung to the Back Benches is journalistic tosh and demeaning to many people both in the House and outside who have campaigned for years to get a ban on hunting with dogs. It was in our manifesto and the Queen's Speech. To link it to the Secretary of State for Transport is fanciful in the extreme and total nonsense.
The process of having debates on hunting is getting rather boring. As my right hon. Friend said, we know the will of the House of Commons. Why cannot we just revive the Bill that went through the House in the last Session? We could do that quickly and move it to the House of Lords. If it decides to reject it, it will not be Government who invoke the Parliament Act because it will automatically come into force. If my right hon. Friend or any of his colleagues think that there is a soft option called the middle way, they are deceiving themselves.
Mr. Cook: Knowing my hon. Friend as well as I have for many years, I assure him that I would never imagine that he would accept a sop, and no one is dreaming of offering him one. He has genuine and sincere views, which I respect. I ask him, though, to respect the views of those of us who genuinely and sincerely support the middle way.