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Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Perhaps it is understandable for one Labour Member to be missing for

2 May 2002 : Column 1058

compassionate reasons from a vital meeting of the Select Committee on the Treasury, but it is surely careless and cavalier for four to be missing. I shall therefore ask the Leader of the House two questions. First, will he deny press reports that he, on behalf of the Government, will in the near future produce a motion to remove some, or all four, of those Members from that Select Committee? Will he tell the House that he has absolutely no intention of doing so? Secondly, will he explain—having failed to do so to the shadow Leader of the House—why he completely disagrees with every member of the Liaison Committee, which comprises, after all, the Chairmen of all the Select Committees, in wanting extra members on Select Committees? It is clear from the experience of the Treasury Committee that that would not work.

Mr. Cook: On the contrary, I think that the evidence to which the right hon. Gentleman refers suggests that perhaps we do need more members on some of the major Committees that handle business. I would like to say two further things in response to the right hon. Gentleman. First, I have had no motion suggested to me in relation to changing the membership of the Treasury Committee. Indeed, the only reference to that that I have seen in the press has been in the gossip columns, and I would strongly advise him not to take the gossip columns that seriously.

Secondly, I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should turn up on 14 May and vote for the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee, which provide for an independent Committee of Nomination, representing the House rather than any party, to decide on the nominations to the Select Committees. If he does so, it will not then be a matter for me to decide who should or should not be on a Committee.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Given that the questions of democratic participation and voter turnout are very much in the minds of those of us with elections in our constituencies today, and given the many innovative experiments in voting methods to which my right hon. Friend has referred, will the Government make a statement analysing the effect of those experiments on the levels of voter turnout? Will he provide time for a debate in which the House could consider the effects of the experiments, so that we can inform the development of Government policy in respect of changes to voting methods?

Mr. Cook: I can certainly say to my hon. Friend that the Government will make a full analysis of the pilot schemes. After all—

Mr. Forth: Look, it's a doughnut!

Mr. Cook: I am very happy to be a free-standing speaker at the Dispatch Box, without any requirement for a doughnut.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): It's not for you. It's a Welsh doughnut for the next debate.

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that guidance. It is often difficult to know exactly how many Members are sitting behind me when I have to look over at the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst—a sacrifice that I make every Thursday.

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Perhaps I can return to my hon. Friend's question. I am pleased to say that we shall make a full analysis of the pilot schemes. We did, after all, encourage these pilots schemes to come forward and I believe that we funded most of them. It is already evident that the postal ballots have been taken up with enthusiasm; that might be one early conclusion that we can reach. A whole range of other experiments is being carried out, and I hope to spend tonight in Newham observing the use of electronic voting, which has already enabled people in hospitals and old folks homes, who could not otherwise have voted, to vote. I hope that that will result in more people having a right to exercise their democratic choice.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): I, like the Leader of the House and several other hon. Members, am pleased that the Prime Minister has agreed to turn up to the Liaison Committee and accept questions from the Chairs of the Select Committees. The Leader of the House will be aware, however, that we in the SNP-Plaid Cymru do not have even a member on a non-regional departmental Select Committee, far less a Chair, hence our interest in the debate on 14 May, as we all support the Modernisation Committee report. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me when we will have the opportunity to question the Prime Minister, beyond the opportunity available to us at Prime Minister's questions?

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman welcomes the Prime Minister's decision to appear before the Liaison Committee, and I am grateful for that welcome. The decision represents a major step forward and strengthens the accountability of Government to the Select Committee system. I also welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman will support the increase in the size of the Select Committees. One of the problems with a membership of 11 is that it is difficult to secure a precise, representative balance on each Committee, and, if we can secure the increase that I am proposing, it will be easier to ensure that the minority parties have better representation.

Dr. Julian Lewis: It is tempting to follow the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and call for a debate on proportional representation, as that would give hon. Members the opportunity to remind him and his fellow Liberal Democrats of the role of PR in putting the National Front on the electoral map in France in the first place. I shall resist that temptation, however, and ask instead for a statement or debate on Zimbabwe. Has the Leader of the House seen in today's press the simultaneous announcements of the declaration of a disaster in Zimbabwe—largely due to the maladministration of the Mugabe regime—and of the arrest of The Guardian's correspondent there? I know that the relationship between The Guardian and the Labour party is not as close as it used to be, but I am sure that we all agree that what is happening to journalists in Zimbabwe is totally unacceptable. Is not it important that we do not let the crisis in the middle east divert our attention from what is happening in Zimbabwe now that the election has been stolen, as everybody predicted?

Mr. Cook: I am not sure that I recall the golden era of a close relationship between the Labour party and

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The Guardian to which the hon. Gentleman refers, although I have great sympathy with everything else he says. The economic situation in Zimbabwe is appalling and there is a real threat of hunger and suffering in a country that, traditionally, was fertile and which exported food, never mind had difficulty feeding its own people. That is overwhelmingly down not to any failing by the people of Zimbabwe, but to the grotesque mismanagement and brutality of the Mugabe regime. I entirely support the hon. Gentleman in that we should not forget what is happening in that country or stop applying pressure to the regime simply because the elections are over and some television cameras have moved on.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): May we have an early statement on the worrying delay in the European Commission's response on common fisheries policy reform, which is causing considerable concern in the fishing industry, especially in Shetland? Will the Leader of the House emphasise to his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that the fishing industry thinks that the European Union and the CFP are drinking in the last chance saloon and that reform as outlined in the Green Paper is welcome, but that anything else will be resisted?

Mr. Cook: I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, who speaks with authority, representing the constituency that he does. Of course, the Government are keenly aware of the interest in the Commission proposals and are keen to discuss them with the Commission. However, I must tell the House that, when we receive those proposals, it is important that a long-term perspective on fish conservation is part of the package. Unfortunately, some fish stocks are themselves drinking in the last chance saloon.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): May I again ask the Leader of the House about PowderJect and the smallpox vaccine contract? Last week, I mentioned a Danish company, Bavarian Nordic. Is it true that a German company—Impfstoffwerke Dessau Tornau, or IDT for short—is now involved? We know that PowderJect was paid £32 million on a contract by Her Majesty's Government. Do we know how much PowderJect paid Bavarian Nordic? Is it true that Acambis—another UK company, which has successfully completed two smallpox vaccine contracts for the US Government—was not allowed to bid for the UK contract? Why is that? Can the right hon. Gentleman answer those questions? Is not it time for a debate on the issue?

Mr. Cook: As I have said to the hon. Gentleman—three times now, I think—the contract was awarded following five separate tenders. Although I do not have, off by heart, the names of the other four companies, and although I cannot say whether the company to which he refers is among them, there was a competitive bid involving five different companies and PowderJect won the tender on the basis of providing the best value for money. How PowderJect supplies the contract that it has obtained is primarily a matter for PowderJect. I certainly have no insight into its private accounts.

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