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Mr. Cook: I shall overlook the hon. Gentleman's characteristically mischievous opening line, and tell the House that I am delighted
Mr. Cook: I am far too humble to be flattered. I am perfectly happy in my present role and would not wish any Member to suggest anything that should remove me from it.
The particular point raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) is of course a devolved matter, but I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my colleagues in the Scottish Executive and to the Home Secretary.
John Cryer (Hornchurch): My right hon. Friend will be aware of yesterday's lobby of the House of Commons by postal workers, which closely followed reports last week, particularly in Tribunea newspaper known and loved by Labour Members old and new. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Perhaps it is known and loved on the Opposition Benches too. The reports were to the effect that the Department of Trade and Industry had been planning to flog off the Royal Mail to the Dutch post office, TPG. Those reports followed the statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to the effect that the Post Office could cut thousands of jobs but there was nothing that the Government could do about it. In view of the shoddy treatment meted out to postal workers and, frankly, the Secretary of State's inadequate response, could we have another debate on the Post Office?
Mr. Cook: As the Leader of the House, I am under no illusion about the fact that that is a matter of grave concern to Members on both sides of the House, and that it will also be raised with them in their constituencies. I am fully aware that the House will wish to discuss it and have reports on it in the future, and I assure my hon. Friend that I expect that to happen.
I have now had an opportunity to study the early-day motion tabled by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), and I see that the detention centre that he referred to is for asylum seekers, so that is not, of course, a devolved matter. None the less, if he will allow me, I will still take up the matter both with the Home Secretary and with the Scottish Executive.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I fully endorse the views expressed by the Leader of the House about the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, who happens to be the colonel-in-chief of the regiment with which I served, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). She is a magnificent person, and plays a major role in the life of the regiment.
May I also ask the Leader of the House a question following on from the question asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer)? A substantial lobby came to Parliament yesterday, representing postal workers throughout the country, including two postal workers from the sorting office in Macclesfield. I share their concern that the universal postal service could be eroded. We now have collections seven days a week, and deliveries five days a week. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that that service, which is critical to people's quality of life, particularly in rural areas, will continue? If he cannot find time for a debate, will a Minister of the Crown come to the House to give an assurance that the universal postal service will continue?
Mr. Cook: I am happy to associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's tribute to the Princess Royal, Princess Anne.
I am sure that we will have other opportunities to discuss the postal service at length in the House, but I stress straight away the Government's commitment to the universal postal service. The universal service obligation is the Post Office's prime obligation, and in our dialogue with the regulator, Postcomm, we are making it clear that any changes that it proposes must be consistent with that obligation.
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): Further to the reference by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) to the involvement of youth in politics, may I remind my right hon. Friend about the UK Youth Parliament, of which Mr. Philip Carey is the member for Hastings and Rother? To encourage young people, would it be possibleduring the summer recess, perhapsfor the UK Youth Parliament to use this Chamber, thus encouraging their involvement in politics?
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): Disgraceful.
Mr. Cook: I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster) that I could not envisage this Chamber being used for any purpose other than the sitting of the elected House of Commons. Indeed, strictly speaking, it is an act of treason to take a seat in this Chamber without being elected to it. [Interruption.] I think the shadow Leader of the House is going a little far; we are seeking to encourage rather than discourage youth. I fully sympathise with my hon. Friend's
Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman's robust views on Westminster Hall are well knownand because of such robust views, it might cause less controversy if my hon. Friend were to aim at having such a gathering in Westminster Hall.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): Is the Leader of the House aware of the concern in all parts of the House about the changes in disability living allowance introduced in regulations on 8 April? They mean that people who suffer fear and anxiety out of doors will be prevented from receiving the lower rate of the mobility componentnearly £15 a weekunless they can demonstrate that their fear and anxiety arise from severe mental disability. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot find time for an early debate on the Floor of the House, early-day motion 1054 has been tabled, including the appropriate prayer:
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security (Disability Living Allowance) (Amendment) Regulations 2002 (S.I., 2002, No. 648), dated 11th March 2002, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th March, be annulled.]
Can the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation to consider those matters? Reasonable concern has also been demonstrated by the Social Security Advisory Committee, so important issues concerning those changes remain to be discussed.
Mr. Cook: I know that the hon. Gentleman follows these matters closely and speaks with authority on behalf of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, and I shall draw his observations to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Should an opportunity present itself for the statutory instrument to be debated, I shall obviously take on board what he says.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): My right hon. Friend, with his renowned powers of total recall, will remember that at the last business questions I asked him about bringing the Foreign Secretary to the House to disavow the speech made by George Bush on "the axis of evil." My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave a rather uncharacteristically unsatisfactory response, more or less suggesting that my question was about withdrawing support for the action in Afghanistan, which of course I had not intended. Does my right hon. Friend accept that unless that speech is disavowed, there will continue to be major concern among Labour Members about any action in Iraq, because that will be seen as the first stage of an activity which extends beyond Iraq to Iran, North Korea and any other country which might be deemed to be part of that so-called axis of evil? Therefore,
Mr. Cook: I must apologise to my hon. Friend if I misrepresented his question in the answer that I gave to it. I am always keen not to misrepresent any Member of Parliament.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will address the House next Tuesday. It is right that we should be given a day for a debate on the middle east at an early opportunity after our return from the recess and I am sure that my hon. Friend and others will want to take that opportunity to question my right hon. Friend and to make their own contributions.
I fully understand the different views taken on Iraq in the House, but I hope that all of us can find common ground by first recognising that weapons of mass destruction should not proliferate within the globe; that we shall live in a situation of greater difficulty and danger to ourselves, never mind to the neighbours of the countries that acquire them, if we permit that to continue; and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is right when he says that we have to take action in order to prevent those weapons of mass destruction remaining in the hands of people such as Saddam Hussein, who in the past have shown a willingness to use chemical weapons. How we proceed from that is a matter that we shall now discuss with our allies and our friends in the United Nations, and I hope that a way forward can be found. But I hope that we can all proceed from the same starting point: that we want to see an end to those weapons of mass destruction.