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Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is right. The Tour de France is followed closely by many residents of Britain. She made an interesting proposal, which I note was received favourably on both sides of the Chamber. For myself, as long as I do not have to take part, I am willing to give a fair wind to her tour of Britain.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): The Leader of the House will be aware of reports of an increasing incidence of air misses in United Kingdom airspace, as well as flight delays, following the institution of the new air traffic control centre at Swanwick. Our constituents are also worried about press reports of new runways being planned around London and the south-east generally. When will we have a Government statement on civil air transport, and the long-awaited White Paper on the industry?
Mr. Cook: I am very much aware of that last point, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the matter is very much in Ministers' minds.
The reports that have been around today on near misses are very much exaggerated. Some hon. Members may have had the good fortune, as I did, to hear Mr. Chisholm of NATS on the radio this morning being quite categoric that the reports are false and exaggerated and that safety has not been compromised by Swanwick or any other development.
John Mann (Bassetlaw): When the United States introduced legislation restricting donations to political parties in 199596, money from corporations and wealthy individuals went to think tanks instead. I note, through Hansard, that there has been no debate on the issue in the past 30 years, although there have been plenty of debates on state funding of political parties. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on donations to think tanks such as the IPPR, which seems particularly keen on restricting donations to political parties?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend forcefully makes a very combative point that will not be lost on the IPPR. Political debate is enriched by those who may not necessarily be professional politicians and so perhaps have more leisure than we do to think deeply about such matters and stimulate future debate.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): I want to press the Leader of the House on the document that was published earlier this week. It says right at the beginning that local authorities spend 25 per cent. of all Government expenditure. For the past 18 years, I have been reminded many times by him and his colleagues that Derbyshire had a rough deal, supposedly, from the last Conservative Government.
Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): Hear, hear.
Mr. McLoughlin: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's endorsement.
Can the Leader of the House explain why Derbyshire will lose between £5 million and £2 million under the Government's proposals?
Mr. Cook: I regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman thinks that one can reach a conclusion about the amount going to any individual local authority on the basis of a range of different options proposed in a consultation paper. The Government have been explicit: we do not favour any one of the options. [Laughter.] The position is quite explicit: only when we have listened to local government and heard the responses to the consultation process will we put before the House the option that we have selected. Until then, no local authority can possibly pretend to know what the consequences will be for its finances.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the Government's proposals on changing the law on double jeopardy? I ask that on behalf of my constituent, Caroline Maddick, whose husband, Eddie Maddick, was murdered last year. Barry Whittle, a man clearly deeply implicated in the events surrounding the murder, was tried but, to general astonishment, acquitted, and the police are not pursuing any further inquiries. Mrs. Maddick is raising funds to pursue a civil case against Mr. Whittle, but is in a difficult position that could be eased if the Government implemented changes on double jeopardy.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend will be aware that this matter has been under consideration by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for some time, and there may shortly be a further development. My hon. Friend makes a powerful case as to why it is necessary for us to re-examine this rule. I hope that when we introduce any changes to the rule, they will get support from both sides of the House, especially from the party that poses as the party of law and order.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): May I inform the Leader of the House of an historic event that took place this morning on College Green? The event in question was the all-party egg-and-spoon race for Sport Relief, which was won by my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas). Out of the five Members who took part in the race, two were from minority parties. If anything, we were over-represented in that race. Is it easier for minority parties to have access to charity sports events than it is for them to get representation on Select Committees?
Mr. Cook: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the success of his political family. However, I offer him some avuncular advice: I would be careful how often I boasted about that success.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the almost daily press reports averring that the American Government have taken the decision to make, and are preparing for, a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. In addition to a statement on the Government's sale of spare parts for Israeli aircraft, may we have a full-scale debate on precisely what the British Government's approach is to any such pre-emptive strike in Iraq and to the worsening situation in the middle east?
Mr. Cook: I read with close attention the reports that have appeared in the press in the past few days. I have not
Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): Is the Leader of the House able to give a definite date for the amendment to the data protection legislation, so that MPs can go about their business properly?
Mr. Cook: As the House will know from previous exchanges, I attach great importance to the ability of Members to fulfil their representational functions without being defeated by the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998. I repeat that I am confident that, before the House rises, we will lay before Parliament a statutory instrument to exempt elected representativescouncillors, MPs, MEPs and Members of devolved Administrationsfrom the requirements of the 1998 Act when they are pursuing cases of constituents who have sought their assistance. I regret that it may not be possible for us to debate and approve it until we return from the summer recess, but the process is well under way.
Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole): My right hon. Friend will be aware that in the past few days the American Government have failed to meet their own deadline for announcing all the exemptions from the steel tariffs. That has made an already worrying situation much worse, not least because I now understand that no deadline is being given for when the work will be carried out. In the short time we have left between now and the beginning of the summer recess, will there be an opportunity to debate this issue or have a statement, so that we can find out what the British Government are doing about telling the Americans to get their finger out?
Mr. Cook: I do not see the opportunity for a debate or a further statement, but I assure my hon. Friend and the House that the Government continue vigorously to follow this matter and to work in close co-operation with our allies and partners in the European Union to ensure that we take every possible opportunity, bilaterally in Washington and multilaterally through the World Trade Organisation, to get that decision changed, because it is damaging to our industry. We should not lose sight of the fact that it is also damaging to American consumers of steel.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): The Leader of the House is very much aware of the widespread interest across the House in the future of British policy on Gibraltar. May we have an undertaking that there will be a statement on the Government's policy on Gibraltar before the House rises for the summer recess, and that it will not be smuggled in on a Friday when many of us will be in our constituencies, but will be made on another day of the week when the House is sitting?
Mr. Cook: We are well aware of the interest in the issue of Gibraltar, and we are conscious of the importance