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9 Jan 2003 : Column 323—continued

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on proportional representation, of which he and I are long-standing supporters? Does he agree that one of the benefits of PR is that it allows Parliaments to control Executives, and that we should therefore welcome the defeat in the Scottish Parliament last night of the Labour-Liberal Executive's shabby and underhand attempt to close fire stations? Will the Leader of the House arrange for that early debate so that we supporters of PR can further celebrate that example of democracy in action?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Do not expect to win.

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) for his expression of support, but I rather suspect, taking the advice of my

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hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), that I may be unwise to call for a snap vote on that proposition.

Mr. Skinner: The man has brains.

Mr. Cook: I thank my hon. Friend for his support. We devolved power to Edinburgh precisely so that the Scottish Parliament can make decisions affecting Scotland. Sometimes those decisions may be ones with which we may not exactly agree, but it is right that the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament should make them.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill): My right hon. Friend may be aware that the Department of Trade and Industry recently completed a public consultation on the World Trade Organisation negotiations on the general agreement on trade in services. Given the importance of those negotiations to the supply of services, particularly in the public sector in fields such as education, health and transport, will he agree to hold a debate in the Chamber at the earliest possible opportunity so that Members can express their views?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes a point of immense importance about the next trade round and developing a freer trade in services to make sure that developing countries can protect their own economic interests and public services. A balance has to be struck—I can assure her that the Government are well aware of that—and I am sure that over the protracted period of the next trade round there will be opportunities for the House to debate the issue.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Will the Leader of the House turn his attention to the forthcoming cricket world cup fixtures in Zimbabwe? Why have the Government been so slow to focus on the issue and the inevitability of President Mugabe hijacking the tournament for political purposes? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it was only when the Secretary of State for International Development, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), spoke out on the issue that the Government belatedly started to focus on it? Surely the time has come to stop passing the buck and make some decisions?

Mr. Cook: I am very happy to put the record straight, and am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to disabuse him of the idea that the Government have shown an interest in this matter only recently. As far back as early July, the England and Wales Cricket Board was advised that the Government would not wish the team to go to Zimbabwe. I also think that it is rather unreasonable of the ECB to pretend that it has noticed only in the past few weeks that there is a problem in Zimbabwe. We could not have been clearer about the Government's position—the cricket team should not go, and it would be wrong for it to do so. I agree that, if it does so, there is a risk that President Mugabe will seek to exploit that for a propaganda victory. However, the decision is for the ECB. I understand the difficulty of the decision, but I hope that it will recognise that there are compelling reasons why it should decide not to go.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I have a question for my right hon. Friend as a moderniser about next week's

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business. Half of a core day in the Chamber will be spent on Church of England Measures, but I invite him to consider whether those matters should not be debated in Westminster Hall. Looking around the Chamber, I see Presbyterians, Free Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics, lapsed Catholics, people brought up as Catholics, agnostics, followers of Islam and members of Jewish congregations: hands up all those who are communicants of the Church of England—there you are.

Mr. Cook: I have to confess that I cannot raise my hand in response to my hon. Friend's challenge. The matter to be discussed next week relates to the consolidation of the Church of England's pension rules, which is undoubtedly important to people who have such a pension. I understand the point made by my hon. Friend, and accept that there is a wider issue to be addressed. However, there are procedures to deal with that, and it is entirely right to retain those procedures at present. As for what may obtain on a future occasion, that is as much a matter for the Church of England as it is for the House of Commons.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The reference by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) to Free Presbyterians reminds me that I am truly a Free Presbyterian of the Auld Kirk.

The Leader of the House will no doubt join me in welcoming the advertising campaign this week dealing with the menace of child abuse and the internet. May we have a statement shortly on the state of conversations between the authorities in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom on transferring information on known paedophiles travelling to England, Wales and Northern Ireland without giving proper notification to the requisite authorities so that action can be taken?

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman raises an important dimension of our fight against the abuse of children, which has become highly internationalised, so it is therefore very important that international authorities co-operate closely. National authorities should be part of that exercise to make sure that we prevent paedophiles from taking advantage of any national authority's ignorance of activity elsewhere. We are therefore seeking the closest possible co-operation with all our European partners, and I shall invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to write to the hon. Gentleman setting out what we are doing in that respect with Ireland.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): On religious matters, non-believers should not be excluded.

If there is to be a ministerial statement on the proposed cricket tour of Zimbabwe, as there should be, would not that be a good opportunity, first, to remind the House that although many of us opposed English cricketers playing in apartheid South Africa, the Tories were in favour of that, and secondly, to argue strongly that there is no justification for English cricketers to play in Mugabe's lawless tyranny, and that to do so would be a disgrace?

Mr. Cook: If I may say so, we have had several ministerial statements on the issue and they have all

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been consistent that the cricket team should not go to Zimbabwe. I hear what my hon. Friend says about the parallels with the boycott of South Africa, but as I understand the present situation—and I would not wish to disturb it—there is unity from all political perspectives that it would be a mistake for the cricket team to go to Zimbabwe, that that could hand a propaganda victory to Mugabe, that we should not do so at a time when he is oppressing his people, and that those who go to play or to watch the cricket will be entering a country and eating food in a country where 7 million people are near starvation.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): May I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider his last answer? In my recollection, there have been no statements from the Dispatch Box from Ministers responsible for Zimbabwe. That is why so many of us believe that the message from the Government has been blurred. It is not good enough for Ministers to make personal statements, as we had from the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) in the Westminster Hall debate. We require an urgent statement as soon as possible from a senior Minister, making it abundantly clear how wrong it would be for the cricket team to go to Zimbabwe. Then, I believe, there would be action.

Mr. Cook: The Prime Minister said from the Dispatch Box only yesterday that it would be wrong for the cricket team to go. There is no more senior Minister than the Prime Minister. That is an authoritative statement. All statements from Ministers have been consistent. As I understand it—although I am beginning to doubt it—the position of Opposition Members is that the cricket team should not go to Zimbabwe. They do not help to get that message across by suggesting that there has been any weakness, doubt or confusion about where the Government stand on the matter.

John Cryer (Hornchurch): The Commission for Integrated Transport recently suggested that the transport subsidies to pensioners should be cut in various ways. One effect of that would be that the freedom pass in London, which covers my constituency, would disappear, and there would be a more uniform subsidy along the lines of the 50 per cent. subsidy in the rest of the country. May we have a statement from the Dispatch Box from a Transport Minister to make it clear that the Government will have nothing to do with such a barmy suggestion, which would curtail my constituents' ability to travel?

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