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Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): We all recognise that there is great pressure before the summer recess for many statements to be made to the House, but why have we had no statement whatever on the very damaging announcements by Royal Mail about its reduction in service, especially for smaller businesses? The Leader of the House will have already seen what the Federation of Small Businesses has said, but the changes will also have a dramatic effect on the self-employed and other organisations. Although there was a brief exchange in Trade and Industry questions earlier, the Royal Mail is still a public servicethank goodnessand surely the Secretary of State should have made a statement to the House.
I shall take this opportunity to apologise to Royal Mail. The House may recall that on a previous occasion I drew attention to a letter that we had received addressed to Mr. David Lloyd George. Because the date stamp on it was indistinct, it looked as though it might have been delayed in the post since 1902. We have now had another letter, correctly addressed and with a date stamp for 2002, and I congratulate the Royal Mail on it having arrived at the correct address, despite the fact that the words "freepost" and "second class" have been written on it: there is, of course, no freepost to the House of Commons.
The other issue on which the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry should have made a statement is industrial relations and the Government's future relationship with the unions. The right hon. Lady was reported in The Independent this morning as saying that she
In the interview, the Secretary of State also said that the communication from the RMT, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)his support is late, but welcomeplaced "unacceptable demands upon MPs". The Leader of the House told me in response to my questions on 27 June that he had declined to sign up to the oath of loyalty, and I congratulate him on that. I am grateful for the assurance that he has given that the letter will be placed in the Library tomorrow, but will he confirm that a full inquiry will be held into what is happening to those Members of Parliament who have apparently accepted the terms of the letter that he and the Deputy Prime Minister found so unacceptable?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman does not know how true it is to say that we will have a large number of statements between now and the rising of the House for the summer recess. The House will already be aware that we have the statement on the comprehensive spending review on Monday and statements thereafter on aspects of that review. In that context, it will unavoidably be the case that we will have to decide what we can bring before the House in an oral statement and what regard we must at the same time have to the very important business of the House, as we have much legislative business to complete before we rise for the recess.
On the specific point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the pilot scheme for charging for early delivery by Royal Mail, I would stress that the schemes are being introduced only after discussion and agreement with Postwatch, the consumer organisation, and the Communication Workers Union. Any individual or business who receives 20 letters a day will be guaranteed early delivery without any additional charge, which should take account of all Members of Parliament. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be relieved to know that his constituency correspondence will arrive early and on time.
The scheme is only a pilot. I understand the concerns that have been expressed by small businesses and the self-employed, who perhaps do not get 20 letters a day. Their concerns and experiences must clearly be part of the overall evaluation of the pilot study before any further decision is taken.
On the question of the RMT, I am happy to repeat the assurance that I have already given the House that the letter from Mr. Crow will be deposited tomorrow. I anticipate that we will have a full textual analysis of it when we meet again next Thursday.
On the hon. Gentleman's other question, to my knowledgeand I am reasonably certain of this pointno Member who was previously sponsored or had a constituency agreement with the RMT accepted the terms of that letter. The decision to reject the terms of the letter was a unanimous decision by all Members who previously had a connection with the RMT. I cannot speak for what further discussions may have taken place with other Members; I am not yet aware of any decision having been taken by any of them and, as far as I am aware, there is no basis at present to believe that the privileges of the House have been infringed by any offence.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): When, on Monday and Tuesday, my hon. Friends the Members for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and I expressed unease about the circumstances of the sale of spare parts for F-16s, we were advised to wait until Trade and Industry questions on Thursday. Since Question 8 was barely reached, there was no opportunity to raise this issue. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on Monday?
Secondly, will my right hon. Friend pursue the matter of the Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill, proposed by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)? It is an all-party Bill, and many of us stayed behind for it on Fridays. A great deal of work has been done by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It has passed all its Commons stages and is now, by late skulduggery, being scuppered in the House of Lords. I have given my right hon. Friend the letter from Lord Williams of Mostyn, and I should be grateful if he could look at it. It is intolerable that this private Member's Bill, which has gone through all its Commons stages, should simply evaporate in the other place.
On my hon. Friend's second point, I was heavily involved in discussions to ensure that the Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill got through its stages in this House. I took a full part in discussions with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and the Bill's sponsors, and I am pleased that we managed to secure its passage through the House. I fully understand the strong feeling behind it and the wide constituency of support from the country, particularly from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
As Leader of the House, I have no responsibility for the actions of Members of another place. I regret that so many amendments were tabled by the Bill's opponents that it would require two and a half days of debate to clear the other place, and I am afraid that there is no realistic prospect of securing that before our last private Member's Bill day on 19 July. I am very sorry that this should have happened; I believe that it was a worthwhile Bill and regret that there are some in the other House who have chosen to stop it.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that earlier this week the Government produced a massive document, "Local Government Finance Formula Grant Distribution"; that they have given all of three months for consultation; that that period will have elapsed before the House returns in October; and that, as the business stands at present, this House will have no chance to debate a document that affects every English Member? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore alter the business of the House so that we can discuss this most revolutionary change to local government finance and, if not, will he keep us here for an extra day to do so?
Mr. Cook: I am always open to representations to postpone the summer recess, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be the first of many to find reasons why we should do so. Perhaps I should warn the House that I might be open to receiving some of those representations and accepting them.
On the hon. Gentleman's specific point, the local government finance document is out for consultation for three monthsthe standard period of consultation. Indeed, our guidelines provide for a minimum of 12 weeks of consultation. Many of those who will be producing results are in local government and will not be taking a three-month recess. However, I have just announced that there will be a debate on the spending review in the last week that the House sits, and it will be entirely appropriate for right hon. and hon. Members to refer to local government finance then.
Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): My right hon. Friend will know that the Tour de France is on and is being enjoyed by millions, although, sadly, in this country only viewers of ITV2 can watch it. Does he agree that a tour of Britain would be a wonderful opportunity not only to