Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Cook: I fully share my hon. Friend's sentiment, but I could have drafted his question slightly differently.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): Tell him about your philosophy.

Mr. Cook: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful idea. I might take refuge in it if my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) presses me too far.

I and my colleagues believe that we were right to take action and end the competition for Railtrack's resources between the travelling public and the private shareholder. That is why I hope that what results from administration will be a company that can devote itself single-mindedly to serving the travelling public without having to serve the master of private shareholders. We shall continue to ensure that investment goes into the rail industry. Those who travel on the continent are well aware of the distances involved and of the enormous gulf between the performance of our railways and that of the better continental railways, resulting from the long period of neglect under the previous Administration.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): May we have an early debate on the operation of the Data Protection Act 1998, particularly in the light of concerns

21 Mar 2002 : Column 441

raised by hospital chaplains against whom the Act is being used to stop them receiving information about the religious affiliation of patients in hospitals? My constituent, Rev. Graham Skinner, wrote that his chaplaincy team had found the new legislation to be a millstone for their ministry. That was not intended when the legislation was enacted. It is now affecting many vulnerable people. May we have a debate so that those concerns can be brought out into the open?

Mr. Cook: I am well aware of some hon. Members' concerns about how the Data Protection Act is impinging on their constituency work. I am actively pursuing that matter and hope to bring any findings before the House. The Data Protection Act was plainly correct in principle and in its objective—to protect the rights of our citizens and constituents—but it must be applied with common sense. It should not become a means of denying our citizens and constituents their rights.

I shall happily look further into the matter that the hon. Gentleman raised. He may have encountered an over-official interpretation of the Act. I am not aware of a parallel case, but it is important that a law that was intended to protect our people benefits them rather than detracts from their quality of life.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford): Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the state of the transport network in Kent Thameside? I ask because it is an area with massive inward investment and is of huge strategic importance to the whole nation. Several outstanding transport issues remain, particularly the state of the railway network, the channel tunnel rail link, Ebbsfleet station and now the possibility of an airport at Cliffe in north Kent. Those strategic issues impact on the whole nation, so will my right hon. Friend find time for a full debate on the subject?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises some strategic and profound issues affecting the region that he represents. It is right for him to put his constituents' concerns before the House. I encourage him to examine further ways to ventilate them, perhaps in Westminster Hall. In the meantime, he will share our pleasure that section one of the channel tunnel link is on schedule and should be completed this year.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): Can the Leader of the House inform us how many additional cannabis users and dealers have been attracted to the streets of Lambeth from other areas during the recent experiment?

Mr. Cook: I cannot answer the hon. Lady's question and I might be regarded with some suspicion if I could. I advise her to examine the results of the experiment carefully. I would personally applaud the police in that area if, as a result of the experiment, they were bringing to book more of those who peddle hard drugs—the ones that we should focus on.

Gillian Merron (Lincoln): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the public interest report drawn up by external auditors KPMG, who have investigated serious allegations of political and financial mismanagement by

21 Mar 2002 : Column 442

Lincolnshire county councillors? The report is not yet in the public domain. Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on improving the public availability of public interest reports, which is vital to restoring my constituents' confidence in local democracy?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend has just put some of the material of that report in the public domain, and I congratulate her on her vigilance. As I said last week when the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst raised a similar issue, I fully deprecate any failure of probity, integrity or financial honesty in public life, whether it is in the House or local authorities. The best weapon against such corruption is transparency. The best remedy that we have is letting in daylight and making sure that the constituents themselves know what is going on.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): Will the Leader of the House, who is always so reasonable and affable on these occasions, consider arranging for a debate ahead of the Chancellor's statement on his Budget on public spending, as we now learn that since the Government were elected in 1997, taxation receipts have increased by about 50 per cent? As the Leader of the House will know, in the west midlands the transport infrastructure is close to collapse, hospital waiting lists are rising, beds are blocked through lack of resources and crime on our streets is almost completely out of control. We need an urgent debate on when we will get value for money for all that extra taxation.

Mr. Cook: I take it that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to be flattering in describing me as affable and I will not take offence at the description. In order to preserve that mood of affability in these exchanges, may I try to encourage him to take a more cheerful perspective on the public services that he has described? In the west midlands, as elsewhere, there are more doctors, more nurses and now more hospital beds than ever before. He will no doubt wish to congratulate the Government on the fact that we are on target to achieve by the end of this month the 20 per cent. reduction in bed blocking that we promised.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West): The Leader of the House will be aware of the ongoing crisis in the Scottish rail industry following the 24-hour strike last Tuesday.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): That was not a proper strike; it was only one day.

John Barrett: The Leader of the House will also be aware that a further two strikes planned by ASLEF have been cancelled, but there are reports in today's paper that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has actively blocked a resolution of the Scottish rail dispute. Can the Leader of the House find time for the Secretary of State to come to the House to explain exactly what has been going on between the Minister for Transport and Planning in Scotland and the Secretary of State's Department? He should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Mr. Skinner: No sooner started than it finished.

Mr. Cook: I think that my hon. Friend has said quite enough.

21 Mar 2002 : Column 443

I am very sceptical about the allegation to which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) refers, and I advise him not to believe everything that he reads in the newspapers; indeed, he would possibly be wise not to believe most of the things he reads in the newspapers. We are clear that these are primarily matters for the train operators themselves to resolve. They are not primarily in the first instance a matter for Government. We have always encouraged both sides to seek independent conciliation and arbitration to find a resolution, and we continue to do so.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Sadly, James Tobin died last week. He was best known for the tax that bore his name, an international tax on currency speculation to be used for developments in the third world, yet he had no sympathy for anti-globalisation rebels who took up the tax. Would he not have been pleased to see early-day motion 885?

[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.]

It has been signed by 115 hon. Members, a wide range of respectable people from different parties. Would not James Tobin also have been pleased to see the ten-minute Bill that was introduced last week by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan)? Can we not, therefore, now have a debate in Government time on what is seen increasingly internationally as a very important issue?

Next Section

IndexHome Page