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Business of the House

12.31 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): May I ask the Leader for the business for next week, please?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): I would be delighted to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question. The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 15 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

Tuesday 16 April—There will be a debate on the middle east on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Wednesday 17 April—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Thursday 18 April—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 19 April—Private Members' Bills. The provisional business for the week after will be:

Monday 22 April—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 23 April—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Wednesday 24 April—My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will propose an Humble Address to celebrate the golden jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen, followed by Second Reading of a Bill, the nature of which I will confirm next week.

Thursday 25 April—There will be a debate on international development on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 26 April—There will be a debate on the quality of life in local communities on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

I am aware that many hon. Members are interested in the future of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill, which had to be dropped earlier this week. I assure the House that we shall bring that Bill back at an early opportunity, and we are confident that we can take it through in this Session.

Mr. Forth: Are you?

Mr. Cook: I note the right hon. Gentleman's observation.

The House will also wish to know that on Tuesday 23 April 2002, there will be a debate relating to total allowable catches and quotas 2002 in European Standing Committee A.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 24 April 2002, there will be a debate relating to food hygiene in European Standing Committee C.

[Tuesday 23 April 2002:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Union documents: 14130/01, draft Council regulation fixing for 2002 the fishing opportunities and associated conditions for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Community waters and for Community vessels in waters where limitations in catch are required; 15238/01, draft Council regulation fixing for 2002 the

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fishing opportunities for deep-sea stocks; 6918/02, draft Council regulation establishing specific access requirements and associated conditions applicable to fishing for deep-sea stocks; relevant European Scrutiny Committee reports: HC 152-x, HC-152-xviii, HC 152-xxii, HC 152-xxiii (2001-02).

Wednesday 24 April:

European Standing Committee C—Relevant European Union documents: 10427/00, draft Council regulation on the hygiene of foodstuffs; draft Council regulation laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin; draft Council regulation laying down detailed rules for the organisation of official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption; draft Council regulation laying down the animal health rules governing the production, placing on the market and importation of products of animal origin intended for human consumption; draft Council directive repealing certain directives on the hygiene of foodstuffs and the health conditions for the production and placing on the market of certain products of animal origin intended for human consumption and amending directives 89/662/EEC and 91/67/EEC; 15475/01, Commission communication on the withdrawal of the proposal for a regulation laying down detailed rules for the organisation of official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption; relevant European Scrutiny Committee reports: HC 28-iii (2000-01), and HC 152-xxxx (2001-02).]

Mr. Forth: I thank the Leader for giving us the business for next week and a hint of what lies beyond.

Yesterday, at column 42 of Hansard, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) raised the issue of the traffic chaos surrounding the Palace of Westminster. Indeed, I believe that, as a result of that chaos, the Leader of the House was delayed in getting to the House yesterday to chair a Committee. We have chaos on the roads and chaotic railways, and, just recently, we had completely chaotic airlines. Who is the guilty man behind all of this? Can the House guess what is the common thread between chaotic roads, chaotic railways and chaotic airlines? I suggest to the Leader of the House that he try to identify that guilty man, bring him to the House and have him answer all these questions.

Talking of airlines and airways, did not we all tell the Government that what they were doing to air traffic control would be a disaster? Even many Labour Members said that it would be a disaster. The fact is that air traffic control has run out of money. Apparently, it is running out of runways and, now, it is running out of aeroplanes as well. We were told before 1997 that the air was not for sale. It now appears that the air is not for flying either.

I was talking of guilty men. The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions appears to have sneaked out yet another announcement, this time—disgracefully—under cover of the funeral of Her Majesty the Queen Mother. The odd thing about this one is that it appeared on something called a website but apparently without an accompanying press release. Uniquely, we seem now to have the Jo Moore memorial non-press release. However, we no longer have Jo Moore or that nice Mr. Sixsmith to blame, so who does the Leader of the House imagine is to blame for all this

Is it not clear that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions must step forward and take responsibility for this recidivism, as he seems unable

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to give up committing this offence repeatedly? We ought to get to the bottom of the matter and understand the right hon. Gentleman's psychology, since he needs help.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister was asked about post office closures. Memorably, he answered:


We need a debate on this matter to flush out the truth. Are there to be 5,000 closures, or nearly 3,000, or will the number be completely different? Does the Prime Minister have a clue about how many offices will close, and does he care? When asked a specific question about a matter of great importance to people in both town and countryside, the Prime Minister was, as usual, quite unprepared to give any sort of answer. Can we therefore please have an urgent debate on what is going to happen to our post office network? If the Prime Minister is not prepared to answer that question, perhaps another Minister will come forward and do so.

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his helpful questions. If I were to attempt to parade before the House the guilty people responsible for the difficulty of air traffic chaos, I should have to produce many members of the previous Administration. I do not know which planet the right hon. Gentleman inhabits when he is not here in the Chamber, but I routinely and regularly fly between Edinburgh and Heathrow and I can tell him that difficulties with air traffic control computers did not begin in June 1997.

As for the eccentric idea that this Government should have adopted the Conservative Government's plans for involving the private sector in air traffic control, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that those plans amounted to complete privatisation, in which all responsibility would have been handed over to the private sector. That would have left us in a worse position than at present. We are involved in seeking a way forward so that we can find a solution.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): A final solution?

Mr. Cook: The phrase that I used was "find a solution", and I hope that the record is correct on that point.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst accused the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions of having sneaked out a report on its website yesterday. That report was a private paper from private sector consultants to an official seminar at which there was no ministerial attendance. The Department was under no obligation whatsoever to publish the report at all. Indeed, if the Department had wanted to suppress the report, it would have been simplest not to publish it, as there is no requirement to do so. It is to the Department's credit that it pursues a policy of transparency. Every month, 200 documents are placed on its website— many more than was the case under the previous Administration.

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If the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst really wishes to raise questions about people who have sought to conceal from the public what they wish to say—

Mr. Forth: I can see what is coming.


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