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28 Nov 2002 : Column 464—continued

Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): My right hon. Friend may be aware that Candy Domestic Appliances Ltd., based in my constituency, recently announced the closure of its plant in Bromborough. He may also be aware that the company has made major investment in the site and that the unions and the work force have been exemplary in reaching productivity agreements to maintain and improve competitiveness. Despite all their efforts, however, the competitive disadvantage of the pound-euro exchange rate has proved an insurmountable barrier, and as a result about 200 dedicated and hard-working people may find that their jobs are at risk. Will my right hon. Friend try to arrange for an early debate on the pound-euro exchange rate, as Candy is not alone in facing that often insurmountable barrier to competition?

Mr. Cook: On my hon. Friend's specific question, he will have heard the pre-Budget report yesterday, when the Chancellor said that the Government would complete their economic assessment in June. Whatever the outcome of that assessment may be, I am sure that the House will want to hold a number of debates on the issue.

On the issue that affects my hon. Friend's constituency, may I record our concern and regret that after such sterling efforts by both work force and management it has not been possible for the plant to continue? I know that my hon. Friend has worked hard

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to try to secure a future for the company in his constituency and that he will do all that he can to ensure that every possible provision is made for those men and women who may be facing redundancy. I can assure him that he will receive full support from Departments in those efforts.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Further to the question put by the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman), the Leader of the House will know that during the many years that he has been a Member, it has been our custom to debate, in the autumn, in Government time, either the Chancellor's pre-Budget statement or the autumn statement. The Leader of the House is denying us that opportunity this year. Will the House thus not conclude that, given the changing fortunes of the economy, as set out yesterday, the Government no longer wish to be held to account on that subject?

Mr. Cook: I am not denying the House anything. I have always sought very hard to accommodate the wishes of the House to debate matters of common interest to hon. Members on both sides of the House. As I have just said, we have a full programme of Second Reading debates, which reflects the Government's activism and the crowded legislative programme that we have announced, but I am well aware of the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises. I will discuss it with my colleagues, and we will, of course, consider what opportunities we can find to remind the House of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's excellent record in maintaining a sound economy, with the lowest inflation for a generation, the lowest unemployment that any of us can remember and the fastest growth of any of the big economies in the world.

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey): My right hon. Friend will be aware that yesterday the Chancellor announced a review of employers' liability insurance. Will he arrange for an early statement to the House to spell out exactly what that review's remit will be? For example, will it address not only the huge escalation in premiums, but the way that they are set? Will it also address the fact that many companies in my constituency are experiencing grave difficulty achieving renewals and that, even when their policies are renewed, they are fearful of making claims unless they face non-renewal in future? In the interests of joined-up government, will the Government consider the wider range of essential insurance policies that businesses need, for which they also face huge escalations in cost?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend helpfully underlines the importance of the review and why it is necessary. I am well aware of the concern among a number of hon. Members about the increase in premiums. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer) raised this issue only the other week. My hon. Friend requests a statement; we will not be short of statements to the House in the weeks ahead, but I certainly think that this may be an occasion when, at an appropriate time, the Treasury may wish to consider using the new innovation of written statements, which we have provided.

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Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): May I invite the Leader of the House to spend an evening with me in Lichfield? We could perhaps go to one of its elegant restaurants—perhaps the Eastern Eye—and then to Lichfield cathedral to hear one of the many concerts that are put on there. Perhaps then he might like to speak to his right hon. and hon. Friends about the contents of the Licensing Bill, which, if passed, will mean no more concerts in Lichfield cathedral and no more Lichfield festival; nor will there be any concerts in Worcester or Hereford cathedrals, or many others in the United Kingdom. When will the Licensing Bill appear for its Second Reading in the House?

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his invitation to dinner, which I shall communicate to my diary secretary, with my secret marking to put it at the bottom of the pile.

On the issue of substance that he raises, I reassure his constituents that the proposed provision on licensing public events in places of worship does not embrace any religious act of worship, for which no licence will be required, and that it will permit churches to hold five events a year, on each of three days, making a total of 15 days without licence. Of course the premises may be regularly used not for acts of worship, but for secular entertainment, however worthy and excellent.

Michael Fabricant: It is very worthy.

Mr. Cook: I am sure that it is extremely worthy and extremely excellent, so the hon. Gentleman owes it to his constituents to ensure that they can hear it with the peace of mind of knowing that those premises are safe and that they can leave them in the event of an emergency. For that reason, any responsible Government must ensure adequate provision for places of public entertainment. If there were to be—God forbid—any disaster in Lichfield cathedral, the hon. Gentleman would be the first to criticise the Government for not safeguarding it.

Mr. James Wray (Glasgow, Baillieston): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 96, on the child rescue alert scheme that has been piloted in Sussex?

[That this House welcomes the launch of Child Rescue Alert which will interrupt radio and television transmissions with urgent appeals if a child is in real danger of harm or death; feels that the system which is being pioneered in Sussex will save many lives; believes that the scheme will assist in the capture of the abductors of children before they can cause any harm; and furthermore hopes that this scheme will be used throughout the United Kingdom as soon as possible.]

Given that we live in a world of paedophiles and perverts who put children at risk, will he make time to debate the scheme when the report comes from Sussex so that we can implement it throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has just made a statement on sexual offences and unveiled a White Paper, which will in turn,

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of course, result in legislation. His proposals have been widely welcomed. Of course that will provide the House with an opportunity to debate such matters further, and initiatives of the kind that my hon. Friend describes should certainly be considered carefully and assessed to discover whether they can have wider application.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on the cost of living indices? I ask that because it is about time that we had an updated view of what people spend their income on week by week. He has just announced that we will hear about the local government settlement next Thursday, but it is becoming ever more difficult to explain to pensioners why, on one index, the state pension is increased, but by an amount that does not even cover the increase in their council tax bill. Whether council tax, the purchase of a car or mortgage interest should be included in the various formulae should be debated, and those formulae brought up to date.

Mr. Cook: A number of issues need to be discussed and examined, and I have no doubt that the matter will be discussed inside and outside the House, particularly in relation to whether the general retail prices index adequately reflects the spending of a pensioner household. Having said that, I would make two points. First, whatever measure we have of RPI, inflation is lower than it has been for three decades, which is an achievement that we intend to maintain. Secondly, under this Government, substantial funds have been made available to local government in a way that was not experienced under the previous Conservative Government. Local authorities must live within their means, and must consider carefully decisions on taxation within their remit, but there is no local authority in Britain that has not done much better over the past five years than it could have dreamt of doing in the previous five years of the Conservative Government.

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