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16 Jan 2003 : Column 825—continued

Mr. Cook: We are obviously going to have a very interesting debate on Tuesday. I do not hold out much hope that it will be made even more interesting in the way that the right hon. Gentleman suggests. However, it is important that we approach the matter in a mature way. We have committed ourselves to a free vote. It would be right and proper for the Opposition to complain if there was any suggestion that the Government were not allowing a free vote. Consistent with our commitment to a free vote, it would be wrong for the Government to advance a collective view.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Has my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 410, on avoidable accidents caused by sleep deprivation?

[That this House recognises that a significant proportion of all road accidents resulting in death or serious injury is caused by sleepiness; notes the human misery caused by fatal road accidents, which cost around one million pounds each; further notes that at least 1 per cent, of the United Kingdom's adult population has a medical cause for sleepiness; acknowledges the Royal College of Physicians' observation that untreated sleep apnoea sufferers may have driving impairments comparable with other drivers well over the legal alcohol limit; acknowledges that sleep apnoea is readily treatable with a machine costing #300 which lasts for ten years; notes the research undertaken by the Sleep Centre at Edinburgh university; that shows the cost of treating 500 sleep apnoea patients with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure treatment for five years would be a total of

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#400,000 in comparison to the estimated cost of accidents caused by untreated patients with sleep apnoea over the same five year period being #5,300,000; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to give serious consideration to increasing the provision of treatment for sleep disorders.]

That is a very serious subject. From the answers that I have received from the Department of Health, it is clear that many primary care trusts and hospital trusts do not take the matter seriously. They do not offer a cost-effective treatment that could save many lives on our roads, as the majority of accidents are caused by people who suffer from sleep apnoea. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on what is a very serious matter?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises a matter about which she has expressed concern on the Order Paper. She makes some important statistical points about the importance of the disorder. I am sure that Ministers at the Department of Health will want to make sure that the NHS responds to the problem properly. I shall ensure that they write to her setting out the strategy for dealing with this disorder.

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): The Leader of the House will be aware that the Committee stage of the European Parliament (Representation) Bill was successfully completed today, and that that measure gives the people of Gibraltar the right to vote in European elections. Do the Government intend to introduce a similar Bill that will give the people of Gibraltar and all British overseas territories the right to democratic representation in the British Parliament, which has responsibility for them also?

Mr. Cook: No is the short answer to that. The Government deserve credit for introducing, as no previous Government have done, a measure that will make sure that the people will be represented in the European Parliament. However, it is in the nature of the overseas territories that they have their independent form of government. As someone who was Foreign Secretary for a time, I know full well how jealously those territories guard their right to govern themselves and to ensure that their administrations are accountable to their indigenous populations. It would be wholly inconsistent with that to make them part of this Parliament, which would necessarily mean that they were subject to rule from Westminster.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House inquire as to when records relating to links between King Edward VIII and the Nazis will be released? I am told by the Lord Chancellor's Department that an investigation into this matter has been completed, but there seems to be great reluctance to release the findings.

Mr. Cook: I am advised that the papers relating to the abdication of King Edward VIII will be released to the Public Record Office on 30 January. That will enable those who wish to examine the matter to see the discussion that took place at the time and the anxieties that may then have existed. It is right that that should be

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put in the public domain. Hon. Members and other members of the public can then come to their own conclusions.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Leader of the House will be aware that the Northern Ireland Grand Committee is supposed to meet at least four times a year, and that there is a possibility that it will meet six times. Next week, three months will have elapsed since we last met. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that the Grand Committee will meet within the month and that, in keeping with commitments that have already been made, it will do so in Northern Ireland? That would allow some Northern Ireland Members who find it difficult to attend meetings at Westminster to attend the sitting. If there is a question about where to meet, I understand that the old Senate Chamber is available.

Mr. Cook: I am in discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the precise powers and role of the Grand Committee in circumstances when we do not have the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are fully seized of the additional importance of the Grand Committee in those circumstances. The hon. Gentleman can take it that there will be a meeting of the Grand Committee in the foreseeable future. Where it should meet is normally a matter for consultation between all parties, and it has not always been possible in the past to get agreement on what is the most convenient location for everybody. However, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be willing to undertake those consultations.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): I draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House early-day motion 436, on missile defence.

[That this House notes the request by the United States Government to upgrade facilities at RAF Fylingdales as part of their National Missile Defence programme; recognises that there are huge moral, economic, technological and legal issues raised by NMD; welcomes the Government's commitment to a wide ranging public debate on these issues; and believes that the United States request should not even be considered until the British public has been able to have this debate and decide whether the XSon of Star Wars" proposals offer any real security for Britain or the international community.]

Will my right hon. Friend make time for a full debate, in Government time, on national missile defence? Although the subject can be raised in next week's defence debate, the House needs to examine many issues to do with star wars. They include whether the technology works, what risk local populations face, and the destabilising effect of what many regimes in the world, including China, will regard as missile proliferation. Also, the House needs to discuss whether the Government have been entirely transparent in saying that the decision that they are about to take to update Fylingdales does not mean that Britain is signing up for the star wars project.

Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, when he answered questions both here and

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in the Select Committee yesterday, made it clear that the decision that he was minded to take had to do with the current application, and that any future decision would be a matter for a future debate. On the question of discussing the matter in the House, I fully understand the interest that my hon. Friend and many other hon. Members have in it. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence came to the House and made a very full statement and took questions for a full hour yesterday. He then went to the Select Committee and answered questions for a further hour. There will be a debate on defence in the world next week. It is one of a number of debates on defence of a general character that are held in the course of the year. It would be entirely relevant for any hon. Member who wishes to ventilate some of these issues to do so in that debate.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): Is the Secretary of State for Defence prepared to come to the House this afternoon to put right the statement that he made about the future of BAE Systems? Many hon. Members on all sides who have a workforce involved with BAE were shocked by his comments. This is the second time the Secretary of State has effectively damaged the company. In the next few weeks a decision will be made about the purchase of two carriers for the Royal Navy. Quite rightly, there should be an open competition, but the Secretary of State by his comments has seriously damaged the financial future of a major British company. Would the right hon. Gentleman please make a statement on this?

Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has in no way damaged the prospects of any company obtaining any contract from the Ministry of Defence. It would be rather odd if anything that he said damaged his ability to award a contract to that company.

Perhaps I may remind the hon. Gentleman of the background. Last year BAE Systems itself asked the Government to remove the requirement that 50 per cent. of the shareholders had to be British. The Government responded to that initiative and request from the company by removing the requirement. As I understand it, at present 54 per cent. of the shareholders are of foreign rather than British origin. But that is not a consideration in the award of any contract by the Ministry of Defence. Certainly the Ministry quite rightly and properly attaches importance to the economic benefit that would come from a contract being awarded. That economic benefit remains constant so long as BAE's installations are in Britain, and is not dependent on where its foreign shareholders may be based.

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