Mr. Cook: I am aware of the organisation CRY, with which I have had contact in my constituency. I congratulate those parents who have discovered that they have offspring with heart failure on their work both to publicise the risks to young children with undiagnosed heart problems and to raise funds to take that cause further. My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The more children in such a position who are aware of it, the better able they will be to adjust to life and to ensure that they are not exposed to unnecessary risk.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): Does the Leader of the House accept that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the farming community about the proposals that are under active consideration in Brussels on the reform of the common agricultural policy? There is a mid-term review in the course of next year and a longer-term review as part of the enlargement process through to 2006. Commissioner Fischler will produce in the next few days proposals that are advertised, if we are to believe reports in the Financial Times earlier this week, as fundamental reforms of the current structural packages of support. Will the Government take the opportunity before the summer recess to organise a debate in Government time to clarify that uncertainty?
Mr. Cook: I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are following the issue closely and will of course pay the greatest of heed and care to proposals to change the CAP. I have not the slightest doubt that the matter will be thoroughly ventilated in the Chamber.
I would, however, enter one general observation without necessarily committing myself or the Government to what Commissioner Fischler may propose. Although we are all committed to reform of the CAP in the abstract, we mostly reject proposals for reform when they are made. We have to complete that bridge. Most hon.
Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the mounting concern in the House and beyond caused by the delays in obtaining police checks from the Criminal Records Bureau? If so, it will come as no surprise to learn that Leeds social services have not received one single return from the bureau since 1 April. As a result, 60 posts remain unfilled while they await the results of checks. That is 60 caring posts of which my constituents and those of other Leeds Members are deprived. In those circumstances, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early statement to the House on what has gone wrong and what can be done to put it right?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises an important issue: we must ensure that those who apply for jobs with children are properly checked so that anyone who may have a record is identified before securing a post. I am not aware of the delays to which he refers, but if he writes to me I will be happy to ensure that the Home Office provides him with a full response and that we take what action we can to keep that important part of our system of protecting our children intact and expeditious.
Bob Spink (Castle Point): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate so that we can discuss the importance of a new cardiac centre to the people of Essex? That would allow us to show why the facility should be provided at Basildon hospital, where it would greatly benefit those of my constituents who suffer from heart problems. We would also be able to consider ending the rather futile consultation process so that we get on with the job of providing the centre, which is much needed in Essex.
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear that the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith), who has a great influence on my life, is solidly in support of his proposal. However, I know enough from long experience not to get involved in the particular siting of a unit. We are fully committed to ensuring that we expand the provision for those who are in need of cardiac surgery, and I am delighted that we have the hon. Gentleman's support on that. Perhaps in return for my offering to look kindly on what he said about the need for a unit in his constituency, he will look kindly on the need to vote for the comprehensive spending review which will provide the money.
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the deteriorating security situation in northern Afghanistan, and the fact that female foreign aid workers are having to be withdrawn because of repeated violent attacks, including the gang rape of a French female aid worker? Given that 60 Afghan and international relief organisations have now called for an extension of ISAF beyond Kabul, will my right hon. Friend discuss this very urgent matter with his Cabinet colleagues and consider how it might be debated in the House?
Our current strategy is to do all that we can to build up the police and military authority of the Interim Government rapidly, so that they themselves can provide better policing in the provinces within Afghanistan. In the meantime, I would join my hon. Friend, as will all Members of the House, in deploring the attacks on aid workers, which are not only distressing and horrific for the aid workers concerned, but have the result of denying the poor and the destitute of the region the assistance of aid agencies.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): Will the Leader of the House ask Ministers at the Department of Health whether they will adopt my Back-Bencher's Bill, the Vaccination of Children (Parental Choice) Bill, as a Government measure? That would have the effect of allowing parents the right to choose the single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines as opposed to the combined triple vaccine. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be very concerned by research produced this morning by the Autism Research Unit in Sunderlandby Paul Shattock, the director therewhich seems to provide fresh evidence that there may be a link between MMR and autism. It follows in the footsteps of other research that has been produced by Professor Andrew Wakefield and Dr. John O'Leary. If we are to protect the nation's children, is it not time the Government worked on the precautionary principle and allowed parents the right to choose between the single and triple vaccines?
Mr. Cook: I heard a very interesting dialogue this morning on the "Today" programme, which I always find a help to my digestion of breakfast, between Mr. Paul Shattock and the representative of the Medical Research Council. I hope that Paul Shattock will now respond to the invitation of the Medical Research Council to submit his research to peer group review and ensure that it is put through the same examination as other research in this area.
The fact is, though, that, as the hon. Lady will be aware, the overwhelming bulk of the medical literature on the subject, and the overwhelming tendency of the investigations that the Medical Research Council has validated, is that there is no link between autism and MMR; indeed, I heard the representative of the MRC say this morning that there is a positive case that there is no such link. It is therefore unlikely that the Department will sponsor a Bill that is contrary to the policy of that Departmenta policy which is drawn up in the interests of parents and children to ensure that we provide the best possible protection for the children of the nation.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on ways to engage young people in politics, and particularly in the work of the House? Is he aware that when the singer-songwriter Billy Bragg recently appeared before the Select Committee on Public Administration, of which I am a member, he
Mr. Cook: I have always wondered what the clothes were that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) wears; I am very grateful that they have now been satisfactorily labelled. This is not a matter for the Government to impose on the House, nor are there any obligatory dress standards on Members. [Interruption.] I am happy to reassure the right hon. Gentleman that I have no intention of bringing in any guidelines or statutes on the ties and shirts that he wears. It is open to Members to come to the Chamber in whatever attire they choose, provided it is seemly and decent and consistent with the Chamber. It is a matter for individual Members.