|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. From time to time the House sits on a Friday, and I am confident that the hon. Gentleman will be in his place and will not let anything get passed that he believes should be challenged. I commend his diligence and assiduity to his hon. Friends on the Back Benches.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Next Tuesday will be a big day for the House because the Prime Minister will submit himself to parliamentary scrutiny by appearing before the Liaison Committee for three hours. My right hon. Friend will have read my early-day motion 1505, signed by a small but influential group of Members.
[That this House enthusiastically welcomes the Prime Minister's decision to appear before the Liaison Committee in July and thereafter on a regular basis as one way of enhancing the accountability of his Office to Parliament; believes that the Committee with 34 members is far too large and unwieldy to perform the scrutiny function effectively in a three hour session; further believes that the chairmen of all domestic committees should be excluded from sessions involving the Prime Minister, hopes that the remaining members agree to divide into three groups, each one in turn quizzing the Prime Minister at length and in detail over the forthcoming three sessions; and further believes that no serious purpose would be served if the Liaison Committee is unable to put the Prime Minister under sustained and rigorous questioning, testing to the limit his views and the Government's policies.]
I wonder what will happen on Tuesday if every single one of the 34 Members insists on firing a question at the Prime Minister. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell the House what the arrangements are.
Mr. Cook: I commend my hon. Friend for his initiative in tabling the early-day motion. I see that it was signed by 18 Members, which may be small, although I cannot comment with confidence on the degree of influence as the names are not listed yet
The point raised by my hon. Friend is well understood in the Liaison Committee and I know that its members have held a number of discussions to ensure that they make a success of that first hearing. The matter is primarily for members of the Committee, not for me as Leader of the House; they have taken it on board and they understand that next Tuesday they will be as much on show as the Prime Minister. In the meantime, I remind the House that this is a substantial new step in the scrutiny of Government by Parliament. No previous Prime
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): A few weeks ago, the Leader of the House asserted that in his view there had been too much spinning by the Government. Against that background, may we have an assurance that on Monday we shall hear the outcome of the comprehensive spending review from the lips of the Chancellor and that we shall not read about it in the weekend press?
Mr. Cook: I can certainly assure the House and the right hon. Gentleman that it will be my right hon. Friend the Chancellor who makes the statement on Monday, and I can also assure the House that my right hon. Friend will of course want to be the first to break the news to anybody. Let us be realistic, however: our friends in the Gallery will spend the whole weekend trying to break a story, and will break legs to get it. In the meantime, I can only suggest to Members that they do not necessarily believe everything that they read in the papers between now and Monday afternoon.
Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): May I ask for an early statement on the steps the Government are taking to co-operate with the Irish Government in the wake of the publication this week of their report into the Ansbacher offshore banking scandal? The report named a significant number of British nationals who were clearly using that bank to avoid paying tax. Are we co-operating closely, and may we have a statement?
Mr. Cook: I assure my hon. Friend that the British regulatory authorities co-operate very closely with their counterparts in other countries, especially in the European Union, where some special arrangements apply. It is very much in our interests to do so, because we depend on that co-operation being reciprocated when we pursue issues of concern in our country. If the Irish Government want to take further follow-up action, we stand ready to help them.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Is the Leader of the House aware that after last week's Hillsborough talks, when the Prime Minister promised to introduce moves to sustain the peace process and to report to the House by 24 July, it was widely reported and believed that that would actually give an amnesty for paramilitaries on the run, which would be unacceptable to many people on both sides of the House? May I have a categoric assurance from the Leader of the House that there will be a full statement from the Dispatch Box if that does occur and that such an amnesty will not be announced after we go into recess, as is so often the practice of the Government?
Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there have been a number of exchanges on that subject and that the Government's position on it has not changed. I fully understand the point that he makesthat if any such steps are taken, the House should be kept fully informedand I know that it will be shared by Members from Northern Ireland. We are well aware of the undertaking that we would try to seek a way forward on the wider question by 24 July.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that the Daily Record is delivered daily to my office, and I have indeed noticed the very extensive and forceful publicity that the newspaper has been giving to the issue in the course of this week. I also know my hon. Friend's constituency and know that there will be many former miners there who suffer from respiratory diseases, which are only too common in mining communities.
I will draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the Minister for Energy and Construction, who, as he knows, has been very active in pursuing justice for miners and in dialogue with representatives of the mining communities. In so far as it is possible for us to respond to these concerns, I am sure that he will be willing to look sympathetically at how to do so.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): May I again draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the question of CAP reform? We now have the Fischler proposals, which were published earlier in the week. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot arrange a debate in Government time before the recess or next week, will he arrange for the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), to appear before European Standing Committee A or B to set out the Government's reaction to these important proposals, in an attempt to allay some of the uncertainties that they have occasioned in the farming community throughout the United Kingdom?
Mr. Cook: I am certainly well aware of the importance of the proposals and I also fully understand the controversy that surrounds them. There is a limit to what I can offer the House in the remaining eight sitting days before we rise, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this will be a high priority for the Government and that I am under no illusions that the House will not wish to discuss this before any final decision is taken, which is some time away.
In conclusion, I add, as I have on previous occasions, that we cannot have it both ways. We cannot constantly demand reform of the common agricultural policy and then complain about the specific proposals that are put to us. If we want reform, we have to face up to some very difficult and painful choices.