Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Can the Leader of the House tell us how the Chancellor is getting on with his comprehensive spending review? Can he give a date when the Chancellor will make a statement to the House? Against the background of what the Leader of the House has just said, can he assure us, first, that the outcome of the CSR will not be trailed, leaked or spun to the press and that the House will hear it first and, secondly, that we will have an adequate opportunity to debate it?
Mr. Cook: I am happy to assure the right hon. Gentleman that the spending review will be of great importance to Government, Parliament and the nation and, therefore, must be adequately considered in the House. I have no doubt that that will take place. However, I would be in grave difficulty with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and many other members of the Cabinet if I were to reveal now what will happen in the spending review. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his invitation, but I will resist temptation. As for the date, I anticipate that it will be before we rise for the summer recess, but I cannot go further than that now.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): On Wednesday night, we will be presented with a list of names for the new Joint Committee that will consider the reform of the House of Lords, but no one has asked me if I want to join the Committee. I feel that I have something to contribute, and I think that my hon. Friends would agree with me[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I would like this to be taken as a formal application to join the Committee and I look forward to hearing the response from the Leader of the House.
Mr. Cook: I am delighted to respond by saying that I take note of my hon. Friend's application, although I hope that it will not be a precedent for the remainder of the business statement to be turned into applications for membership of the Joint Committee. I anticipate that the names will be tabled on Monday night and will appear on the Order Paper on Tuesday, so that we may have a full debate on Wednesday.
Mr. Cook: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that nothing has been decided and will not be decided until Monday when we table the motion. However, I draw the House's attention to the fact that we have providedby agreement with the Opposition, for which I am gratefulfor a three-hour debate on the motion on Wednesday.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): I thank the shadow Leader of the House for his kind remarks and I welcome the announcement by the Leader of the House that he will introduce a statutory instrument to solve some of the problems with data protection by the summer recess. As the Member who moved a ten-minute Bill on the subject yesterday, I am grateful to hear that. In the right hon. Gentleman's negotiationspresumably with the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Information Commissionerwill he concentrate on the question of so-called sensitive personal data, as defined in the Data Protection Act 1998, as that appears to be the principal sticking point, in particular in correspondence with social services departments and national health service trusts?
Mr. Cook: I am well aware of the matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers and I thank him for having ventilated it in the Chamber in a way that received support from both sides. The sensitive information is the nub of the problem. In truth, we cannot serve our constituents when they come to see us about matters to do with the health service, for example, if we cannot have a free and frank exchange with the relevant authorities about such sensitive data. That is why we will be introducing a statutory instrument that will enable us to carry out a representational function that none of us thought would be impeded when we passed the 1998 Act.
Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Following last Monday's welcome statement, may we have further opportunities to consider India and Pakistan? May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 633?
That motion has already attracted the support of 417 Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum, including prominent supporters of each of those countries. It reflects the extent to which Parliament shares the Government's grave concern that, notwithstanding recent progress, there remains a high risk that confrontation could turn into war, which could go nuclear, bringing terrible suffering and death to many millions of people in southern and even central Asia.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that that remains a matter of concern and that too much tension remains within the subcontinent. I very much welcome the steps that have been taken recently on both sides to reduce that tension. I hope that we can accelerate those steps so that it is clear that both sides have backed away from any attempt at a military solution to a problem that can be resolved only through diplomatic progress and a greater rapprochement between the two countries, both of which we regard as our friends. Obviously, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): The Leader of the House will be aware that on Tuesday, Mr. Speaker kindly allowed me to raise, under Standing Order No. 24, the redundancies at Fisher Foods, where 400 people have already been made redundant and there may be another 1,000 job losses in the community. He has also kindly allowed me an Adjournment debate on the subject next Thursday. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Government Departments are involved, namely, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? What mechanism exists to try to co-ordinate the approach of those Departments and what advice would the right hon. Gentleman give me?
Mr. Cook: If I remember correctly, the company to which the hon. Gentleman refers is the same company that was involved in the closures at Peterhead, with which we dealt in a business statement just before the recess. As I said then, Government Departments are very willing to assist in any way that is valuable or relevant to find alternative buyers and an alternative future for the employees. I fully understand his concern and that of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) that the plants that are at riskand the work force who face redundancyare highly profitable, successful and have made a large amount of investment. It is important that we do all that we can to ensure that they can continue in production if at all possible. In the first instance, that is a matter for the private sector, but we stand ready to help in any way we can to find alternative management so that production can continue and to assist the work force should they face redundancy and loss of employment. There is a well worn and well trod path of co-operation through which those Departments will put in a joint task force to assist the work force and the local economy. Since the hon. Gentleman invited my advice, I suggest that he discusses that with the DTI and the DWP.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware that today the United States formally withdraws from the anti-ballistic missile treaty so that it can develop its national missile defence system. I draw his attention to early-day motion 1279, in which hon. Members express their concern about the matter.
[That this House notes the death of the ABM treaty in mid-June owing to USA withdrawal and recognises that the United States Government is now free to request use of Menwith Hill and Fylingdales as part of its proposed missile defence system; further notes that any use of these bases for a missile defence system will directly affect the people of the United Kingdom and that as yet their representatives have had no chance to express their views on the proposals in parliament; and urges the United Kingdom Government to call an urgent debate in the House before any such system is considered.]
Given the awful effects that the development of that system could have on world peace and the threat to this country in particular if the facilities at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill are used, will he assure the House that those
Mr. Cook: We have had no request for the use of those facilities for any such new purpose. Should such a request be made and should the Government reach a view on it, I am sure that the matter will be debated and explored in the House. In the meantime, surely we must all welcome the recent historic agreement between the United States and Russia to achieve historic cuts in their nuclear arsenals, taking us to levels that we had never hoped to secure. I very much welcome the agreement that has been reached between those two countries, which are of course the only signatories to the anti-ballistic missile treaty.