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Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Does the Leader of the House accept that to many people the debate on 18 March shows a Government with the most extraordinarily twisted priorities? At a time when the Government are about to dismantle the Fleet Air Arm, the transport system is in chaos, there is a serious shortage of teachers, and the hospital trusts and social services in my constituency are underfunded to the tune of more than £20 million and unable to deliver the services they should, is not this spiteful and reckless attack on the rights of minorities a total waste of time and an irresponsible delusion of public opinion?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman and I have both been Members of Parliament for a long time and we both know that those on either side of the House can produce their own list of important matters that the House should debate. I would like the House to have more opportunity to debate the fact that this country has the fastest growth of any of the major economies, the lowest inflation in Europe, the lowest unemployment for a generation, and the biggest investment in health and education of any of the G7 countries. The totality of a parliamentary year provides opportunities for us to debate matters of deep public concern, and whatever view he takes of hunting, I am sure that he, as a fair-minded Member, admits that it is the subject of genuine public concern.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): On 14 February, Channel 4 transmitted a programme that showed the application within the national health service of futile care theories. That is when medical staff make subjective judgments about their patients that can lead to death by dehydration and starvationprocedures legitimised in 1993 by the Bland judgment. Rather than the courts and the medical profession leading the debate, is it not high time Parliament began to debate that difficult area of policy?
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Following the passing of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, Her Majesty's Government promised the House a regular debate on London issues. The Leader of the House will have heard the excellent question of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) on congestion charges. Surely the House should be consulted on the merits of that iniquitous scheme, which will weigh particularly heavily on Londoners at a time when their public transport has been steadily run down? Will the Leader of the House now assure us that we will get that early debate, preferably before Easter?
Mr. Cook: I am not sure that it is a good use of the House's time to debate matters over which the Government have no legal powers. Our main angle on congestion charges is whether the revenue from them is used to improve public transport; that is the locus of Government. We do not have a locus to prevent the use of the powers that the House has given the Mayor of London. However, I am sensitive to the need for a debate on London, and I said in the last business statement that I shall keep under review the opportunity for a debate on London issues.
Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): May I raise a matter of interest to my north-east constituents in Hartlepool? We had been led to expect that the White Paper on devolution to the English regions would appear in the new year, then March and then by Easter. However, according to a report in today's Financial Times, it has been postponed by the Government until a future date. Can my right hon. Friend say whether or not that is the case and, if it is, offer an explanation? Will he give an undertaking to the House that that will not mean that the Government's legislative timetable, whatever it is, will not slip?
Mr. Cook: Of course, no date was ever given for publication of the White Paper on the regions, so it is difficult to understand the allegation in the press that there has been a delay in a publication date that was never set. The bottom line is that all in the Cabinet want to introduce a White Paper on the regions. As my right hon. Friend, who follows these matters closely, will know, there are difficult issues to be resolved; they are being actively worked upon in repeated meetings. As soon as we can produce a White Paper, we shall do so.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): I feel sure that the Leader of the House will agree that the situation in Zimbabwe is deteriorating dangerously. I was grateful a few weeks ago for his assurances that Ministers would come to the Dispatch Box to keep us informed of developments. Does he think it appropriate, when the
Mr. Cook: I wholly agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the gravity of the situation in Zimbabwe. As he seeks a Government statement, I can say that we fully deplore the way in which the Leader of the Opposition there has been treated: on all the alleged evidence produced so far there is obviously no motivation other than a political one for the charges that have been brought against him.
I will indeed keep under review when it may be appropriate for a Minister to make a statement at the Dispatch Box. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the elections, a week on Sunday, will take place very shortly; the House will obviously want to consider what happens after those elections. Whether it would be helpful in the context of those elections to have debates which would be relayed within Zimbabwe is another matter.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): There were excellent exchanges today during Treasury questions on international debt relief and educational developments in the third world. Has my right hon. Friend noticed early-day motion 885 on tackling global poverty?
[That this House notes that international currency transactions total more than $1 trillion a day and that the vast majority of this is unrelated to the real economy of tangible trade goods and services; believes that such enormous speculative flows have contributed to serious economic damage to countries and regions such as Mexico (1994), Southeast Asia (1997), Russia (1998), Brazil (1999) and Argentina (2001); further believes that a small levy on such currency speculation, the Tobin tax, named after the Nobel Laureate who originated the concept, could both dampen down the scale and scope of speculation and raise substantial revenues, potentially in excess of $50 billion each year, for projects targeted towards ending global poverty, is pleased that this initiative now enjoys the backing of a number of governments and parliaments across the world, including France, whose parliament recently passed a law authorising its implementation; is heartened by the words of the Chancellor that innovative ways need to be urgently found, including currency taxes, to finance development; wishes the Chancellor a successful mission to the UN 'Financing for development' conference in Monterrey, Mexico; urges him to take steps towards the introduction of a internationally co-ordinated currency transactions tax, with the proceeds ring-fenced for international substantial development objectives; and further urges the Chancellor to ensure that these proceeds do not replace either existing international aid disbursements or agreed commitments to increase international aid.]
The first six signatories to the motion are from different political parties in the House and are concerned about introducing an international tax on international currency transactions and ring-fencing the money for third world development. Can we have a debate on that, which perhaps could be tied in with Monterrey and discussions on financing development, whether before or after the conference?
The Monterrey conference provides a useful opportunity to refocus international energy and interest on providing finance for development, which has not been sufficiently prominent in international affairs. I can assure my hon. Friend that my colleagues attending the conference will do all they can to make sure that a successful outcome is secured. That may not involve a Tobin tax, which has its own serious technical problems, but must involve equivalent ways of helping the third world.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): As one of those involved in the Middle Way Group option which seeks to offer an alternative to the rather entrenched positions of the pro and anti-hunting with dogs lobbies, and given that polls indicate that the public are moving away from criminalisation of hunting with dogs towards regulation, may I ask the Leader of the House whether, in the event of the Commons and Lords disagreeing with regard to the options in the Bill, he would consider setting up some sort of three-way dialogue so that, with some generous listening and mutual respect, we might be able to find a workable and fair solution that is accepted by a majority of the British people?