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12 Dec 2002 : Column 399—continued

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): Can my right hon. Friend arrange for an emergency debate—or, better, a statement from a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry—about the situation of the deep-mine coal industry? Maltby colliery in my constituency is under threat, primarily because of the cheap coal coming into Europe from different parts of the world. We cannot compete with that, and frankly, the investment aid programme now being touted by the DTI will not help in any way whatever. We need a reintroduction of the operational aid for Maltby and other collieries in the same situation. We are about to lose 30 million tonnes of reserves: great assets for this country that will be locked away for ever if action is not taken quickly.

Mr. Cook: I entirely understand the enormous importance of this issue to my right hon. Friend's constituents, as well as the importance of deep mine coal to our country's long-term strategic energy resources. I will draw his remarks to the attention of Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry and ensure that they respond.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): Will it be possible to have a debate in the near future on immigration and asylum policy? I, for one, am extremely concerned at the letters that I am receiving, across the political spectrum, from people saying that they might be tempted to vote for extreme parties because the issue is not being taken seriously by the mainstream political parties. The figures are worrying. Sir Andrew Green mentioned 250,000 people a year coming into this country. The problem is especially severe in the south-east, where there is great pressure on housing.

Mr. Cook: I do not think that any serious observer could argue that either the Government or the Opposition have failed to take seriously the issue of asylum and migration, which has certainly been a major element of debate and legislation in the House, and has

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been a high priority for the Government. Through our actions, we have shortened the time taken to reach an initial decision on an asylum application, and we have increased the rate at which failed applicants are removed from the country.

We are faced with a change across the whole of Europe, and it must be said that our actions compare reasonably favourably with the statistics for other European countries. We especially welcome the fact that the number of illegals arriving at Dover has dropped dramatically over the past few months. We will certainly continue to do all that we can, partly because it is an important issue but partly also because of the point that the hon. Gentleman made: this serious matter, which we must address soberly and with priority, should not become the basis for the election of extremist parties, which would bring much hardship and injustice—which would have nothing to do with asylum and migration—to the nation and to those who vote for them. With that in mind, it is important that those of us who raise this issue should also stress our personal commitment to ensuring that we have in Britain a tolerant and open multicultural society.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Is the Leader of the House aware that today is the last day on which the House of Commons can object to a minute laid by the Secretary of State for Transport offering a very considerable indemnity to London Underground in order, he says, to get one of the tube contracts signed by 31 December? We have a foreshortened time to debate the subject, and it seems odd that one contract should take precedence over all the others. Will he ask the Secretary of State to come here and explain what is so urgent, why this has happened and why we have not been given the normal time in which to object to the contents of the minute?

Mr. Cook: No, I will not ask the Secretary of State to come and make such a statement. This issue has been before the House for a number of years and has been repeatedly debated. I have said from the Dispatch Box several times, as has my right hon. Friend, that what is necessary for the people of London is to get a modernised underground system with the substantial investment that is there waiting for it. Frankly, if it is necessary for us to take such steps to remove barriers that have been put in the way by those who are responsible for London transport, it is important that we should do so. I cannot believe that people outside this place who use the underground would share my hon. Friend's view that we should do anything that would hold up that investment.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Given the encouraging remarks by the Minister for Europe in last night's European Union debate about the Foreign Secretary's now intending to discuss the crisis in the fishing industry with the Prime Minister before this weekend's European summit, can the Leader of the House confirm that that crisis will be placed squarely on the agenda over the weekend and that the Prime Minister will do everything that he can to ensure that it is addressed?

Mr. Cook: In my experience of European summits, there are two ways in which the agenda can be progressed. One is within the formal Chamber, and the other, which is sometimes more satisfactory, is at the

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margins. There will doubtless be discussions about this matter at the Copenhagen summit. As I have repeatedly said before, we must not lose sight of the root problem, which is that cod stocks are collapsing. They must be managed and conserved, and if there are no fish left in the sea, there will be no fishing either.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): The Leader of the House told us that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will make an oral statement next week. Can he assure us that outcome of the consultation on the size of the Scottish Parliament will be announced as an oral statement in this House next week?

Mr. Cook: I can assure my right hon. Friend that I am well aware of the interest in this matter—indeed, I take a close interest in it myself—and I anticipate that the House will wish to hear by means of an oral statement the outcome of the review.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): Does the Leader of the House accept that his disingenuous response on the issue of blind trusts will be deeply unacceptable to most people in this country? There is considerable uncertainty, in that the Prime Minister has one idea of blind trusts, and the rest of the country has another. The matter therefore needs to be clarified by a statement by the Prime Minister, from the Dispatch Box, on blind trusts. Finally, does the Leader of the House accept that two flats were involved, and that the second flat constituted a speculative investment that it was quite wrong to make from a blind trust?

Mr. Cook: I would not characterise my reply as disingenuous—frankly, I thought it was passionate and blunt.

Mr. Forth: It was both.

Mr. Cook: It was both passionate and blunt.

Mr. Forth: And disingenuous.

Mr. Cook: I do not accept that it was disingenuous. What is the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) saying—that the Blair family were not entitled to have access to their funds in order to provide accommodation for their son to attend university; or is he seriously arguing that the Government's whole housing and economic policy would be warped if they purchased one flat for renting? If he is labouring under such a delusion, he should look at the letter from the Cabinet Secretary, which explicitly rebuts that allegation. I come back to the—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I say again that we are treading on the area of the family, and, with the greatest respect to the Leader of the House, I do not want this to happen on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the past week another startling announcement was made about Members of Parliament that has been largely ignored by the press? I am referring

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to the publication of the Register of Members' Interests. If he has time to read it, he will be shocked to learn that one Tory MP is picking up probably #200,000, and another—the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer—is getting more than #100,000. I have already mentioned the previous Tory leader, and another half a dozen Tories are making more than #75,000. People out there are not too concerned about blind trusts; they are concerned about the fact that it is high time that we had legislation to insist that Members of Parliament be well paid, and have one job and one job only.

Mr. Cook: I am very glad that my hon. Friend has been able to put the record straight about the omission of these very important facts. I hope that his contribution will be given greater prominence tomorrow than those concerning the Prime Minister and his family.

On legislation to ensure that MPs have only one job, we have always—

Mr. Forth: What about Ministers?

Mr. Cook: Ministers are constrained already in terms of what they can undertake. They are Ministers of the Crown, who are answerable here. If the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that MPs should cease to be MPs when they become Ministers, we will end up with a sad Parliament indeed. Ultimately, this is a matter for Members. Most important of all, it is for their constituents to decide whether they wish to re-elect them.

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