Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend rightly and properly raises a matter of anxiety for her constituents and an issue that must be of serious concern in her constituency. There are ways in which she can ventilate that through the House. It is important that we make sure that we get the right balance of rights in the workplace, and the Government have taken action to ensure that there are fair rights at the workplace. We must get the right balance between the provision of skilled flexible labour that will attract investment, and the decent protection of that labour from unemployment.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): As the Leader of the House was present in the Chamber yesterday to hear Northern Ireland's First Minister tell the Prime Minister clearly how much it would undermine him and others who supported the Belfast agreement if the Government went ahead with an amnesty for terrorists on the run, can he

7 Mar 2002 : Column 429

give us an assurance today that no such amnesty will be granted? I see the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. As he clearly does not intend to give us such an assurance, will he at the very least say that the suggestions in the press that the amnesty will occur over Easter are quite wrong, and that the House should be allowed to debate the matter before a decision is taken?

Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would be rather startled if I were to rule out or rule in what he must do. I have always made it perfectly plain that we want to ensure that the peace process succeeds. If time is required in the House to ensure that that happens, I shall, as Leader of the House, ensure that it is made available.

Jim Knight (South Dorset): Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the membership of Select Committees? In particular, does he share my concern about the continued inclusion on the Defence Committee of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who remains a member of that Committee despite his recent appointment to the Opposition Front Bench as a defence spokesman? He is indeed a very honourable man; I get on with him well and I congratulate him on his appointment. However, I feel that his membership dilutes the independence of the Committee and threatens its ability to achieve cross-party consensus.

Mr. Cook: I understand that this matter was raised in the Liaison Committee this morning, and I shall be very happy to discuss it with the Chairman of that Committee so that I can understand and reflect the collective views of the Select Committee Chairmen. It would be generally held to be desirable for Select Committees, which carry out scrutiny and seek to find cross-party agreements on their reports wherever possible, not to include Front Benchers from either side of the Chamber. However, I say to my hon. Friend that we must also be understanding of the fact that the official Opposition are so small they might need Front Benchers to be included.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): Will the Leader of the House find an opportunity to debate in Government time the latest privatisation in the Ministry of Defence? The privatisation of fleet support services affects 4,000 jobs in Rosyth, Portsmouth, Devonport and Faslane. Will he give the House a proper chance to scrutinise the way in which the process has operated? We need to give some confidence to the work force that the 1,000-odd projected redundancies will be considered properly, and the House needs to be satisfied that the MOD has properly gone through all the processes for considering the bids for the work. There is currently widespread dissatisfaction about the way in which the matter has been handled and a resistance on the part of the MOD to come to the House to justify the position that it has taken.

Mr. Cook: This sounds like exactly the sort of issue that the Defence Select Committee could pursue if it were minded to do so. None the less, I shall certainly convey

7 Mar 2002 : Column 430

the hon. Gentleman's observations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and invite my right hon. Friend to write to him.

Andy Burnham (Leigh): I support the call made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) for a debate on the manufacturing industry and employee protection. Problems in the industry are hitting towns such as Leigh especially hard. Leigh has lost thousands of jobs in recent years in coal mining and textiles, and we now face the injustice of 220 people being made redundant from Volex on terms that are by far inferior to those applying to counterparts in the Republic of Ireland who work for the same company. Will my right hon. Friend find time soon for a debate on the process of redundancy, how it is hurting families and how we might do more to protect employees who are being made redundant?

Mr. Cook: In recent weeks, a number of colleagues have requested a debate on manufacturing industry. I am acutely aware of those demands and keep them very much in mind. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will open a debate in the House next week in pursuit of one of her other responsibilities, but I am conscious of the wish on both sides of the House for a debate on this matter. I shall see whether we can accommodate some way of ventilating these issues if time is available.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): In calling for urgent clarification from the Leader of the House, I seek to draw to the House's attention a matter that will concern Opposition, Government and minor party Members. On 30 January, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister about worsening waiting times in accident and emergency departments. The Prime Minister replied—I refer to column 281 of Hansard—that the method of measuring such things had changed. Indeed, he said that it had changed under this Government. Given that ministerial replies from both this Government and the previous one make it absolutely clear that these figures are collated and collected centrally only by the Audit Commission, I was surprised to receive a note from the Library saying:

The note also said:

That is a serious matter. Given the Prime Minister's scrupulous regard for straightforwardness and accuracy—if only Hansard could measure irony—he will want to make an urgent statement to the House about the source of his information and the basis on which he made the claim. If it is inaccurate, he will want to apologise to hon. Members, for it is inconceivable that he would deliberately mislead the House.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman raises an important, highly detailed and technical point. He will forgive me if I say that I do not believe that it would assist me or hon. Members if I attempted to answer it without either notice

7 Mar 2002 : Column 431

or considering the facts. However, I shall ensure that the Secretary of State for Health responds to the hon. Gentleman to clarify the issue.

Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East): The Leader of the House may be aware of early-day motion 943, which looks forward to the celebrations for Europe day on 9 May, the anniversary of the date on which Robert Schuman presented his proposals for creating a European Community.

[That this House looks forward to the opportunity for the United Kingdom to celebrate Europe Day on 9th May; recognises that 9th May marks the day in 1950 that Robert Schuman presented his proposal for the creation of the European Union; notes that the European Union has been central to the maintenance of peaceful relations and coexistence on this continent ever since; welcomes the opportunity for the UK to join in this annual celebration of the diversity of cultures that exist within Europe; and celebrates the UK's membership of the European Union.]

Will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate on Thursday 9 May to mark Britain's continued, positive involvement in Europe?

Mr. Cook: I am tempted to agree to such a debate if only to enable Mr. Richard Balfe to tell us his views on Conservative European policy.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate or statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the disposal of surplus national health service accommodation? A group of people in Wirksworth in my constituency would like the NHS care centre that was closed recently to be converted into accommodation for elderly people. That service is desperately needed in the town. A similar arrangement to that in Buxton, whereby the property was sold at a lower cost to local residents, could solve the problem.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman has been able to raise an issue of concern to his constituency. However, I am not sure that the best way to proceed is through centrally imposed guidelines or requirements. Obviously, when appropriate and effective alternative uses that meet other social care or health needs can be found for NHS premises, the local health authority should provide for that. However, there is an alternative. In the case of large, commercially profitable sites—there is an example in my constituency—ploughing the money back into other parts of the health service is frankly best for the community. However, decisions should be made case by case, not centrally.

Next Section

IndexHome Page