I should like to press the Secretary of State very briefly about General Wesley Clark, as he has so far not been clear about the matter, despite my giving his office notice that I would raise it.
General Clark did not say that a decision had been made about military operations, although that is the question that the Secretary of State keeps answering. He said that the decision has been made to
"go after states, not shadowy networks of terrorists".
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether, if that is the case, we will be dealing with states rather than terrorist networks in the war against terrorism?
The hon. Gentleman draws a distinction without real meaning. In Afghanistan, for example, after an appropriate notice period elapsed and the Taliban
20 Jun 2002 : Column 421
regime failed to deliver up al-Qaeda as they should have done, the state was under notice that we would take military action, which is precisely what happened. That has always been the position of the international community. Any state that harbours terrorists and gives them the sort of support that the Taliban regime gave to al-Qaeda is certainly a state against which we will consider taking action.
20 Jun 2002 : Column 422
Business of the House
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook):
With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.
Monday 24 JuneConsideration of Lords amendments to the Export Control Bill.
Motion to take note of European documents relating to single European sky.
Tuesday 25 JuneOpposition Day [15th Allotted Day]. Until 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Crisis in the Care Homes Sector", followed by a debate entitled "Crisis in Zimbabwe". Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.
Wednesday 26 JuneConsideration of Lords amendments that may be received to the Tax Credits Bill.
Thursday 27 JuneEstimates [3rd Allotted Day].
There will be a debate on public-private partnership for London Underground followed by a debate on individual learning accounts.
At 7 o'clock, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Friday 28 JuneThe House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the following week will be:
Monday 1 JulySecond Reading of the Public Trustee (Liability and Fees) Bill [Lords].
Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.
Tuesday 2 JulyOpposition Day [16th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Wednesday 3 JulyProgress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
Thursday 4 JulyConclusion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
Friday 5 JulyDebate on modernising Britain's gambling laws on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on Thursday 4 July will be a debate on the reports from the Education and Skills Committee on the work of Ofsted. On Monday 1 July, there will be a debate relating to third-country nationals in European Standing Committee B.
The House will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise on 24 July and return on 15 October. That will, however, depend on the progress of business in the other place.
[Monday 1 July 2002:
European Standing Committee BRelevant European Union documents: 8237/01: Status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents; 11803/01: Entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purpose of paid employment and self-employed activities. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 152-i, HC 152-ix and HC 152-xv (200102).]
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst):
I thank the Leader of the House for letting us know of the business for next week and for notifying us of the date of the summer recess.
20 Jun 2002 : Column 423
The House will know that the Prime Minister has just concluded his groundbreaking press conference, in which he apparently gave members of the press about an hour of his time, in contrast to the mere 30 minutes that we get for PMPs each week. I am curious to know whether there are any plans to extend the time that the Prime Minister submits himself to questions by right hon. and hon. Members in PMPs, given the hour that he gave to journalists. I know that it is all supposed to be in the cause of transparency, but it seems that we are being given a pretty shabby deal by the Prime Minister. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to put that right.
Talking of transparency, I happen to have in my possession the proceedings of the parliamentary Labour party meeting that was held on Wednesday 12 June 2002 at 11.30 am in Committee Room 14. Sadly, Mr. Speaker, you are no longer able to attend PLP meetings. That being so, I am sure that you would like to know what went on at the meeting. This little item reads:
"The Party Chair referred to his article in The Times that morning and stressed the need for colleagues to go on the offensive regarding the merits of politics and politicians."
He then said:
"We also had to expose the deep hypocrisy of the media and the journalists who printed uncorroborated and unfounded stories on a daily basis."
I wonder whether the party chair had anything to do with the reference to the Press Complaints Commission that was mysteriously withdrawn. There is something rather at odds between what the party chair was saying to the PLP and what Mr. Alastair Campbell was doing at No. 10.
The party chair concluded by saying
"that the current climate of seeking to undermine politicians was completely unacceptable in a democracy".
We should have a debate on this, not in the PLP but in this place. I should like to know how it is that the chair of the Labour party believes that the press seeking to undermine politicians is unacceptable in a democracy. It is a sinister allegation, is it not? Will there be proposals from the chair of the Labour party somehow to muzzle the press, if he believes that it is being unfair to the delicacies of the PLP? We must know more. I hope that the Leader of the House will give us an opportunity to debate the matter.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that the stock market is
"massively up on where it was five years ago."
My information is that shares are now 2 per cent. lower in value than they were five years ago, when the great pensions tax was first imposed. We need clarification. Perhaps the Leader of the House can tell usI know how well briefed he is on these occasionsfrom where the Prime Minister obtained his information. It seems yet again that the Prime Minister has either been misinformed or has rather carelessly let slip something that may not quite be true.
In the same column, the Prime Minister went on to say,
"we are putting £6 billion more into pensions every year."[Official Report, 19 June 2002; Vol. 387, c. 272.]
I will leave right hon. and hon. Members to conclude whether that is true. However, the Prime Minister seemed to forget to sayI am sure that he would have done so in
20 Jun 2002 : Column 424
the interests of fairness and transparencythat, at the same time, the Government are taking £5 billion a year out of pensions as a result of the great pensions tax that was imposed so surreptitiously about five years ago. In the interest of fairness, I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to correct the imbalance in what the Prime Minister said yesterday.
Today, a report has been issued by the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that makes some rather sensational claims and statements. I shall give the House a few of them. I hope that this will form the basis of an urgent debate on the report. Surely we cannot fail to debate it when it says such sensational things as
"we find it extraordinary that the Minister was unaware that there was a potential problem until July 2001, and that his officials had sought clarification of the Regulation on nine occasions without referring the matter to him."
Paragraph 43 reads :
"Mr. Meacher told the House in January 2002 that the Government had been 'badly let down' by the Commission. In light of the clear evidence we have received that phrase was ill-judged. Mr. Meacher himself told us on 26 March 2002 that 'I would not say it again in cold blood, no'."
I suppose that that is as near as we will ever get to an apology from a Minister.
The report continues by stating that
"the overwhelming responsibility for mishandling the implementation of Regulation 2037/2000 lies with the Government . . . This debacle will cost the UK around £40 million, a cost which would not otherwise have been incurred."
"We find it deeply disturbing that the Government signed up to the Regulation whilst still suffering from 'knowledge gaps' about its full impact."
Those are extraordinarily serious allegations about the Labour Government from a Committee that is dominated by Labour Members of Parliament. I know that the Leader of the House sets great store by the work of Select Committees, and by their reports and conclusions, and I hope that he can assure us that we will have an urgent debate before the summer recess, so that Members of the House other than those on the Select Committee can give their views on the matters referred to in the report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) asked the Prime Minister yesterday whether we could expect a statement on Gibraltar before the summer recess. The Prime Minister replied:
"The Foreign Secretary has made it clear that there will be a statement when negotiations and discussions are concluded."[Official Report, 19 June 2002; Vol. 387, c. 275.]
I suspect that that response did not satisfy my hon. Friend, and I am sure it did not satisfy a lot of other Members.
I remind the Leader of the House that, before he was promoted to his present position, he said on 4 February 1998 in a speech to the Dependent Territories Association, in his then capacity as Foreign Secretary, "Gibraltar is unique." He then went on say that he wished to
"restate publicly Britain's commitment to the people of Gibraltar . . . Our commitment to them and to all the peoples of the Overseas Territories remains as strong as ever."
I am sure, therefore, that he will now want to go further than the Prime Minister seemed able to go yesterday, and assure the House that the people of Gibraltar are going to be put out of their misery sooner rather than later,
20 Jun 2002 : Column 425
that they need not expect to be kept hanging on in suspense, miserable and unhappy, and that he will keep faith with what he told them way back in 1998 rather more than the Prime Minister seems able to do. I hope that he can do that.