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Mr. Cook: I understand the importance of this issue to my hon. Friend and his constituents; indeed, it is also of acute interest to Members of this House who, like me, regularly pass through Heathrow and want to have confidence in security there. The particular incident to which he refers is being pursued by the police, who are questioning those involved. Of course, it must also be a factor in the review on security at Heathrow, which is already under way. I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to write to my hon. Friend advising him when we expect the review to be concluded.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Although today's statement on Zimbabwe is obviously welcome, does the Leader of the House agree that, in the light of the atrocious way in which Mugabe stole the election and the appalling recriminations against that country's Opposition, the time is right to have a full day's debatein Government timeon this important issue? Surely it would have been better to debate that rather than hunting, for example, last Monday. Does he agree that more targeted sanctions are needed, such as banning all flights by Zimbabwean airlines?
Mr. Cook: We have already adopted a battery of measures against Zimbabwe. First, we established an arms freeze; secondly, we have ensured that we provide no economic aid to its Government; thirdly, action is being taken, through European Union measures, to prevent President Mugabe and his cronies from flying to this country, and against any assets that they hold.
We have taken great care to ensure that we do not adopt measures that would hit the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, who already suffer enough as a result of President Mugabe, without our adding to it. The hon. Gentleman will doubtless be aware that there are some 40,000 British passport holders in Zimbabwe, who want to visit Britain regularly. We would want to reflect very carefully before adopting a measure that might hit them harder than anybody else.
David Wright (Telford): Does my right hon. Friend agree that hospital trust mergers need to be considered carefully? Several of my constituents are concerned that the proposed merger of Telford's Princess Royal hospital and the Royal Shrewsbury hospital will prove disadvantageous. Can we have a debate in the House on hospital trust mergers?
Mr. Cook: I am well aware of the enormous local sensitivity to hospital mergers and the great affection that communities have for their local hospital, which underlines their faith in the national health service. I fully understand why my hon. Friend wants to raise this issue and put it on the record, and I shall invite my colleagues at the Department of Health to write to him. Obviously, I cannot promise a debate on the topic to which he refers, but I can assure him that these matters are followed closely at ministerial level.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): We hear weekly of the Government's intention to change the drugs laws, most notably through the reclassification of certain soft drugs, but no legislation or statutory instruments to that effect have so far been proposed. How will the process be pursued? Will a Bill be introduced, and will hon. Members be given the opportunity to debate the Government's proposals? Most important, given that we are talking about the most fundamental change to drugs laws since the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, will we be allowed to vote on the Government's proposals?
Mr. Cook: As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government have already made a number of statements on this issue, and some local initiatives are under way. I am sure that the entire House followed with close interest the results of the policing experiment in south London, which has actually increased the number of arrests of those who peddle hard drugs. That is particularly welcome.
As the hon. Gentleman suggests, no decision has been announced by the Home Secretary, so it would be premature for me to say how we would implement such a decision. However, the House has not been short of opportunities to debate the matter; indeed, a full debate took place only two or three months ago, if I recall rightly. I am sure that we will return to the matter again.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South): Is my right hon. Friend aware that today marks the end of car manufacturing in Luton? After almost 100 years, Vauxhall is closing, resulting in the loss of 5,000 jobs in the region. He will doubtless want to join me in thanking the workers, unions and local authority members who tried so hard to retain car manufacturing in my constituency. Will he agree to an early debate on how to ensure that companies such as General Motors undertake
Mr. Cook: The whole House will sympathise with my hon. Friend on the loss of employment in Luton and wish to raise its concern about the loss of employment for several thousand people across Europe within Vauxhall production. I agree with my hon. Friend that if a work force and local community have given their loyalty and contribution to a company in the way that her constituents have done for Vauxhall, they are entitled to look to the company to help them to adjust to the process of change. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are assisting in all the ways that they can to ensure that those who were employed by Vauxhall have the opportunity of fresh work and Luton has the opportunity of a fresh start for its economy.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): When the House returns after the Easter recess, may we have a debatethis time in Government timeon the progress of action in Afghanistan?
Mr. Cook: I shall keep all those issues under review. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that I have just announced the business for the first week after the recess and that will include a day's debate on armed forces personnel, when I am sure that many references to Afghanistan will be made. I am also sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will wish to speak further about those of our personnel in action in Afghanistan.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Could we have a debate on small businesses so that the House could congratulate my constituent, Mr. Shelim Hussein, who was named the young Asian business man of the year? In a short time, he has gone from being a waiter in a restaurant to the owner of a business with a turnover of £50 million, under the benign influence of an enterprise-friendly Labour Government. Could we also congratulate Mr. Hussein on his statement that however big his business grows he will still have it firmly located in the brand new city of Newport?
Mr. Cook: I am happy to say that my hon. Friend has relieved me of the obligation to have a debate in order that he may congratulate his constituent, as he has just done so eloquently and convincingly. I welcome the fact that he has mentioned the success of the young Asian business man of the year, because it underlines the theme that I have often mentioned to the House of the enormous asset to this country of those who have come here and made their home here and the strength to Britain of being a multicultural, multiracial society.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): May I draw to the attention of the House early-day motion 910?
[That this House calls upon the Parliamentary Ombudsman to initiate an immediate independent inquiry into the Equitable Life affair and the gross dereliction of duty of the regulators appointed by the Government to monitor Equitable Life policies.]
The motion has now attracted 147 signatures from Members on both sides of the House. Will the Leader of the House use his influence to persuade the parliamentary ombudsman to address the issue, to give us an independent inquiry and to achieve a satisfactory conclusion for more than 1 million policy holders, past and present, who believe that they have been disadvantaged?
Mr. Cook: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having pursued an issue of immense and real concern to thousands of United Kingdom citizens. It is an important principle that the ombudsman is independent of Government and not subject to pressure from Ministers, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the ombudsman has the matter before him. He has, sensibly, concluded that it would not be proper for him to take action pending the outcome of the inquiry by Penrose, which has already been appointed by the Government, but I am sure that he will return to the matter and consider what action he can take once we have received the report.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the ongoing crisis in the railway industry[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I do not know why Opposition Members laugh, because they are the cause of it. That crisis covers not only Railtrack but the train operating companies, two of which have recently had subventions from Government to dig them out of financial difficulties. It is alleged that another four are in serious financial difficulties. Maintenance is an ongoing problem and train delays are getting worse. More than half of the delays are due to train operating companies, not Railtrack. Does my right hon. Friend agree that only a Labour Government can sort out the mess in the rail industry and that it is time for a full debate in which all the options can be considered, including wholesale renationalisation of the rail industry?