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Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister from the Lord Chancellor's Department to come to the House next week to make a statement about the selection of city status? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, in the light of this morning's announcement, there is a growing view that the Government are engaged in a cynical political fix? Is he aware that, since 1997, six towns on the United Kingdom mainland have received city status, and that three of them did so six months before the last general election? Cynics might expect that those cities would all be Labour-held seats.
Mr. Burns: They are; the hon. Lady is right. Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that the Government have decidedrather cruelly, because the next election is not expected for at least three yearsto fix it yet again today? The cities created on the UK mainland all have Labour MPs, and there is a growing fear that if a town that does not have a Labour MP, it will never become a city. That is demeaning to the honour of the process.
Mr. Cook: Of the six towns that have been declared cities today, two are in Northern Ireland and therefore do
Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there was a debate yesterday in Westminster Hall on the Government's energy review? It was a very good debate, but one and a half hours was not long enough, given the number of Members who wished to speak and the number of interests involved. Can we have a full debate on the matter in this Chamber? Energy is an important subject that affects every aspect of life in this country. While I am on my feet, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way in which he responded to the opening points made by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)? I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst on the way in which he presented his points. These exchanges are now becoming the highlight of the week in the Chamber, given the inept performance of the Leader of the Opposition at Prime Minister's questions.
Mr. Cook: I am so glad that my hon. Friend got that last line in, as it explains the preceding passage.
Mr. Cook: No, I could not have risen to such wit. It was entirely a product of my hon. Friend's contribution.
On the question of energy, I am conscious of the wide interest in the matter, which has been raised on a number of occasions at business questions. I will certainly reflect on what my hon. Friend has said as we consider future business, depending on the availability of time.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Last week, I put it to the Leader of the House that it would be quite wrong for the Government to announce an amnesty for terrorists on the run during our Easter recess. Uncharacteristically, he dodged the question, and did not state categorically that no such announcement would be made during the recess. It would be quite wrong to make such an announcement, and the feeling exists on both sides of the House that to give an amnesty to such people would wreck the Belfast agreement. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can now give us an undertaking on that, bearing in mind that the Prime Minister saidin answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) yesterday at Question Timethat there would be no such announcement during the recess.
Mr. Cook: I understand the sensitivity of this issue. I am not aware of what plans there may be for any statementor, indeed, whether a statement is to be madebut I shall certainly convey the right hon. Gentleman's points to the Northern Ireland Office.
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): I welcome the Government's decision to offer a million euros towards
Mr. Cook: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the indefatigable way in which he has pursued this issue, and raised it on many occasions at business questions. It is, indeed, an issue of great gravity, and one that I have personally confronted lately through the experience of one of my European colleagues. I will pass on his observations to the Department of Health, but we need to recognise that, in terms of the statistical incidence of deep-vein thrombosis, the matter needs to be looked at on a global, rather than a purely national, basis. That is why a better way forward may be at international rather than domestic level. I understand my hon. Friend's concern, however, and I shall ensure that it is conveyed to the Minister.
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West): May I add my weight to the call by the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) for a full debate in the Chamber in Government time following the publication of the energy review, particularly in relation to the infrastructure decisions that will have to be made to further the development of alternative energy generation?
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for expressing his view. I remind the House that, at the moment, we have a report from the performance and innovation unit on energy, but we have yet to see the Government's considered response to it. A number of hon. Members have made the case for an extended debate on energy, however, and I am reflecting on that.
Sandra Osborne (Ayr): My constituency has also lost out on its bid for city status, so I can assure the House that it is not only Conservative Members who have been disappointed. Will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate soon on the future of National Air Traffic Services, given its recent financial difficulties and the continuing delay over the new Scottish centre in my constituency?
Mr. Cook: On that last point, my hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has made financial arrangements to ensure that the service can continue, and we shall obviously follow this matter with great care.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for confirming that there is no party political bias in the allocation of city status. I think that Chelmsford has leftthis is becoming like a Shakespeare history playso I shall omit any reference to that place. I encourage my hon. Friend to try again for that status, and I wish her well when she does so. I want to make a correction to my earlier list. I am
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): Given that the appointment of the chairman of the governors of the BBC has now become a new Labour sinecure, at least for the momentand working on the naive assumption that the present appointee, Mr. Gavyn Davies, still has the confidence of the Government, in spite of his remarks at the Westminster media forum yesterdaywill the Leader of the House find time for a debate in the main Chamber in Government time on the future funding, responsibilities and duties of the BBC, prior to the publication of the eagerly awaited communications Bill?
Mr. Cook: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I know that he takes a close interest in these matters. I will happily add his request to the long list of such requests that is before me, but I remind him that we shall soon have an opportunity to examine the draft communications Bill. He and others will have plenty of chances to make their points about the future of BBC funding then.
Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Preston, which receives city status today? In this jubilee year, that is a great honour for 100,000 proud Prestonians100,000 people displaying ethnic and religious diversityand for a town with world-beating industries and a world-beating university that is now the eighth largest in the country. Preston has never been prouder than it is today.