Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): Has the right hon. Gentleman had a chance to read to the interesting report published by the highly prestigious and authoritative National Audit Office, which shows that Labour's policy on the new deal is a complete flop? Will he arrange for a debate, with the Prime Minister present, on the matter so that the Government can apologise for the enormous waste of taxpayers' money that is so clearly set out in the report today?

Mr. Cook: I have seen a summary of the NAO's conclusion. I remind the House that more than 250,000 young people have entered employment through the new deal, as is set out in the report. The NAO makes highly speculative calculations about how many of those were a result of the new deal. If the figures are as low as it claims, it is difficult for me to reconcile them with the experience in my constituency. If the figures are right, they must relate to West Lothian only and nowhere else in Britain. The new deal has been important in delivering one of the remarkable achievements of the Government, which is a cut in youth unemployment by two thirds from the level that we inherited from the Conservative party. Against that figure, we will take no lecture from the Conservative party on youth unemployment.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): On hunting, one must presume that a Bill will be introduced either in this Session or the next. My right hon. Friend told us that it will be decided on a free vote. Can he assure us that that will be the case and that Government Whips will not ask Ministers to go through the Lobbies?

Mr. Cook: I can unequivocally give my hon. Friend that assurance. Indeed, if he looks at the voting record in

28 Feb 2002 : Column 848

the last Parliament, he will observe that Ministers voted on two of the three options. I suspect that that will be the case this time.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Can the Leader of the House give me guidance on the crisis that is developing at the heart of the Government's policy on energy, especially as it is reflected in Scotland? This week, the Minister for Industry and Energy, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), is quoted as saying that the building of a power station in Scotland

Conversely, the Minister of State, Scotland Office, the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), said:

Scotland cannot afford that developing crisis. How does the right hon. Gentleman intend to resolve it?

Mr. Cook: I anticipate that we will have a full opportunity to explore those issues next week, at which time the hon. Gentleman can put his questions to my colleague who will be taking part in that debate. Whatever the legal and constitutional position, surely the important issue is that Westminster and Edinburgh work together to ensure that they find a solution.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): The President of the United States of America seems inevitably to be moving towards war against Iraq, and this morning the Prime Minister made a statement in support of the President's "axis of evil" speech. May I ask that, before any decision is taken on this country joining military action, there will be a parliamentary debate and that any action will be the subject of a vote of this House?

Mr. Cook: It is important to remind ourselves that, despite the best efforts of the media to confuse the point, no decision has been taken in the United States or anywhere else on the question of military action. Indeed, if my hon. Friend looks closely at what the Prime Minister said in that interview, he will see that my right hon. Friend indeed supported action against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, on which I would imagine all Members would support him, but made no commitment to military action in that connection, either against Iraq or anywhere else. Of course, in the event of the kind of outcome on which my hon. Friend speculates, there would be full discussion in the House. It is not something that could be done in secret, and would not be done in secret.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): The Leader of the House will recall the exchange on Tuesday between the Transport Secretary and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) on the subject of congestion charging, in which the hon. Lady called for "this ridiculous plan" to be subject to

In his response, the Secretary of State said:

28 Feb 2002 : Column 849

I understand that the Government have a range of powers under that Act, not least including the matter of exemptions. Will the Leader of the House say when the Secretary of State will return to the Chamber to enable the matter to be debated fully?

Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend will be answering questions next week, and obviously that question can be put to him. The hon. Lady will be aware from her research that the Government's role in this is very limited. It is a matter for the Mayor to bring forward his proposals, but as she may also be aware, we have expressed the view that it would of course help to ensure full public consultation and consensus around the proposals if the Mayor, as is open to him, were to hold a public inquiry into them.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): I look forward to joining my right hon. Friend and hon. Members on both sides of the House in voting in due course for a total ban on hunting. However, on this occasion I would ask whether he could find an opportunity for the House to address itself to another matter: sex and death. He will know that the incidence of chlamydia in this country is terrifyingly high, and that the Government have carried out very useful pilot schemes on screening for the disease. Does he also know that chlamydia ruins fertility, destroys marriages, and because it causes ectopic pregnancy, kills up to 10 women a year? Can we find time to debate the issue and Government action against this silent killer?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a profound and real danger to so many of our young people. The growth in sexually transmitted disease among young people is a matter of concern to all parties in the House. That is why the Government produced only a few months ago their national sexual health strategy. I know that my hon. Friends at the Department of Health are pursuing that vigorously, and I shall draw their attention to my hon. Friend's interest.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Is the Leader of the House in a position to tell us who will respond for the Government in the Opposition day debate in the name of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru on nuclear power, given that we have heard that there is confusion at the heart of government between the Minister of State in the Scotland Office and the Industry and Energy Minister? Perhaps I could helpfully suggest that one opened the debate and the other closed it, and we could see how the debate develops.

Mr. Cook: Since it was at 10.15 this morning that, rather late, the SNP and Plaid Cymru informed us of the subject of next week's debate, I am not in a position to answer the hon. Gentleman's question about speakers. If next time they have an Opposition day they give us the normal notice, the night before, I will be able to answer in good time.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Licensed killing for fun is simply unacceptable. My right hon. Friend may support the middle way but, with respect, he is in a tiny minority. Why do we need to march the troops to the top

28 Feb 2002 : Column 850

of the hill yet again when the view of the House of Commons is as plain as a pikestaff? On 18 March, instead of having a completely useless and meaningless indicative vote, why do we not take the Bill passed by the House of Commons in the last Session, debate it, vote on it, and send it to the House of Lords? If the Lords reject it, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) says, it would automatically become law in this Session. We should not continue the farce until 2003–04, when people outside the House and the majority of those inside it want the matter resolved now.

Mr. Cook: I have been pressed repeatedly in business questions for several weeks to schedule a debate on hunting, and I cannot say that I have been overwhelmed by gratitude for having responded to the demand. As for my position, my hon. Friend and I have in our time both been part of tiny minorities; that did not make us feel at the time that either of us was necessarily wrong. It is entirely possible that when he considers the options, my hon. Friend will feel that the Bill that was presented in the last Parliament is the way forward, and no one has excluded it as such. However, many of those who were involved in the debate on that legislation, including some who pressed for a ban, have perceived ways in which that Bill could be amended. That will require further consideration and should not be ruled out at the start.

Next Section

IndexHome Page