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5 Dec 2002 : Column 1057—continued

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): The Leader of the House will be aware of the impending disaster facing the Scottish fishing industry, in which some 40,000 jobs are on the line. He may also be aware of today's mass rally meeting in Edinburgh, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). Does he accept that the urgency of the situation and the dire consequences for Scotland—the key decision in the Fisheries Council is being taken in December—merit an urgent statement from the Prime Minister to let us know what he intends to do as UK Prime Minister to fight for Scotland's fishing industry?

Mr. Cook: We had a debate on the fishing industry only a couple of weeks ago. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural

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Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), the Fisheries Minister, has done all that he can to keep the public and the House informed of our attitude. Of course, we fully understand the very deep concern in the fishing community about the proposed reductions. However, the hon. Lady should also express some concern about the state of North sea cod stocks. There will be no future for her community or the fishing industry if there are no fish. Unless we take urgent action on conservation, there will be no fish left. She owes it to her constituents not merely to represent their anxieties in the House, but to provide leadership in the local community to ensure that it is sustainable in the long term.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): May we have early clarification and transparency on the Government's policy on the London Underground public private partnership? Have the Government backtracked on their commitment on an early transfer of the tube to Transport for London? What financial commitments flow from that?

Mr. Cook: What the Government said in the recent statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is that we want to proceed with the PPP. It is precisely because we want work to continue in preparation for the PPP that we have provided the proposed indemnity against court action. However, it would be rather strange for us to transfer the London Underground to the Mayor of London while he is still contemplating court action to prevent the PPP from proceeding.

I would say, as a constituency Member, that I am slightly baffled by the attitude taken by the Mayor of London on this question. I can assure the House that, if the sensible, pragmatic, forward-looking West Lothian district council were to be offered the billions of pounds now on offer to the mayor, it would, by now, have found some way for such a scheme to proceed. If the mayor really has the interests of his people at heart, he should now stop putting delays in the way of this project, and enable us to make the essential investment necessary to improve the London underground.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Leader of the House arrange for us to have a debate on parliamentary answers? Is he aware that I have put a number of questions to various Departments asking whether they would list the funds that they make available to organisations and individual members of the public who might apply for them? Most Departments have given reasonable answers to that question. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills, however, has provided me with this answer: XWe do not hold information centrally on all organisations and individuals who apply for grants, or the amounts paid. Therefore, this question could only be answered at disproportionate cost." Is it not ridiculous that the Department cannot tell elected Members of Parliament how it is spending public money, for which it is accountable to the House?

Mr. Cook: I should be happy to consider the hon. Gentleman's question, but, the way I apprehend what he was saying, he was asking about grants to individuals.

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Frankly, I am not surprised that the Department for Education and Skills cannot say what individuals have received financial grants up and down the length of Great Britain. I would be surprised if any Minister were in a position to collate such information—indeed, I am rather glad that they are not. Ministers are there to ensure that the policy directions of their Departments are correct. They should not make individual decisions about who gets money out of them.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the debate in the Chamber on 24 October on the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002, in which the Minister, accepting the world-wide mountain of evidence that white asbestos was dangerous to health, expressed an intention to implement those regulations. It is outrageous, therefore, that the Lords are seeking to annul those regulations this morning. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, if the Lords make that decision, the regulations are brought back to the Chamber so that they can be implemented directly?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend has a long record of pursuing this issue, and he is to be complimented on that. It is certainly a matter that has a serious impact on those who have come into contact with white asbestos. I do not know what the outcome of the hearing next week will be, but I can assure my hon. Friend that it will be considered very carefully and, I am sure, expeditiously, by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Notwithstanding the debate due to take place a little later today in Westminster Hall on the third report of the Select Committee on International Development, can the Leader of the House hold out any hope that we might have a debate on the Floor of the House on one of the most important international conferences ever to have taken place—the world summit on sustainable development, in Johannesburg? Alternatively, does he think—perhaps this is a question for you, Mr. Speaker, rather than for the Leader of the House—that the all-embracing omnibus DEFRA debate in a week's time might give us the opportunity to raise these important issues?

Mr. Cook: I am happy to confirm that the debate next Thursday will provide the opportunity for issues relevant to the Johannesburg summit to be raised. It is a debate on agriculture and the environment, and DEFRA was, of course, one of the lead Ministries to go to Johannesburg, so it would therefore be entirely competent to raise those issues in that debate. I am well aware of the interest, both in the House and among our constituents, in the contribution that the Government have made to international development, and I personally take great pride in the fact that we have increased by half as much again the overseas aid budget that we inherited from our predecessors. I will certainly look for opportunities for the House to debate that.

Mr. James Wray (Glasgow, Baillieston): In view of the confusion that has been created this week in the

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press and the media over health boards up and down the country, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the fluoridation of public water supplies? A legal case to prove that Strathclyde regional council was in breach of the Water (Scotland) Act 1946 has cost £2 million, and Lord Jauncey said at the time that he thought that fluoride was a Xmedicinal product". If that were the case, the council would be in breach of section 130 of the Medicines Act 1968, and would need a product licence to provide fluoride. It would also need to have the product passed by the Committee on the Safety of Medicines. Could we find time to debate this matter in the House?

Mr. Cook: I fear—I say this with deep regret—that this might be an issue on which my hon. Friend and I have differing views. I should declare an interest in that I am vice-president of the British Fluoridation Society. Since my days, long ago, as a health spokesman for my party, I have never been in any doubt that fluoridation has a real and significant impact on dental health. As someone who has had more than his fair share of hours spent in the dentist's chair, I would wish to do all that I can to spare future generations that experience.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): May we have a debate on Government abuse of the work permit system? In it, perhaps Ministers could explain to my constituent Toni Prior why her American fiancé, Troy Ridgeway, cannot obtain a work permit—despite the fact that he has gone through the legal process, has a job to go to, a home, and no recourse to public funds—when 1,200-plus permits are available to people from Sangatte who have no known jobs, homes or skills, and have shown their determination to abuse and bulldoze their way through the asylum process.

Mr. Cook: I cannot comment on the case of the hon. Gentleman's constituent—[Interruption.] I think it would be deeply improper of me to comment, given the fragmentary information that I have been given in his question. On Sangatte, the one issue that has been raised more than any other in the Chamber over the past couple of months—including frequently at business questions—is the importance of the Government taking action on the number of people trying to come here illegally from Sangatte. We have now secured an outcome in which the camp is to be closed. We shall now no longer have illegal immigrants coming over from Sangatte. Only four arrived through the channel tunnel in the whole of October. Conservative Members cannot have it both ways. They cannot demand action to close Sangatte, then criticise the Government for achieving exactly that objective.

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