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Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Does the Leader of the House not find it incredible that the only group of parliamentarians in the United Kingdom who will have the opportunity to consider and vote on a substantive motion in advance of military action in Iraq are Members of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, on the back of a Scottish National party motion? Will he endorse the view of his colleague, the First Minister of Scotland, who says that Labour Members who vote against Government policy do not deserve to be in the Labour party?

Mr. Cook: I am happy to disagree with the hon. Gentleman on all the points that he makes. First, it is not the case that only Members of the Scottish Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on a substantive motion. For the record, I should say that we had a substantive motion in the House before Christmas. Indeed, there was a vote on that substantive motion and, by a very large majority, the House endorsed the Government's strategy in ensuring that we fully support the United Nations process and UN resolution 1441.

The Foreign Secretary has already made it clear, as I mentioned earlier, that the Government have no difficulty at all with the idea that there should be a further substantive motion and, if hon. Members wish to divide the House, a vote on the commitment of troops at the appropriate time. Of course the Scottish Parliament will have views, and those who have a view to express and have formed intelligent opinions about the policy on Iraq will have an opportunity to debate them. However, I am pleased to reassure the House that Britain's foreign policy will be settled in this Chamber, not in the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the dispute that has apparently arisen between the World Health Organisation researchers at Leiden university in Amsterdam and the International Air Transport Association about whether airline companies are helping or hindering vital research into deep-vein thrombosis and air travel? Given that the British taxpayer is funding that research, will he bring the issue to the attention of his right hon. Friends, with a view to reporting back to the House?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend takes a deep interest in this matter and has alerted the House to it on several occasions during business questions. As he will know, the Government share his apprehension and concerns, which is why we have been one of the countries willing to fund the international research, and we will continue to give that support. We should not prematurely judge the outcome of that research until it is available to us. I can assure my hon. Friend that nothing said in the meantime will deflect the Government from our

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commitment to ensuring that we have full, thorough international research, partly funded by the United Kingdom.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): Although many hon. Members—at least those on the Conservative Benches—strongly support the Prime Minister's policies on the promotion of international law and order, are they not a terrible contrast with the Government's complete and lamentable failure on domestic law and order policies? Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on the Government's crime and law and order policies to be held as soon as possible? Will he ensure that, during that debate, we hear from the as yet unnamed but widely quoted senior Labour Minister who described the Lord Chancellor—I think that I quote him exactly—as a muddled and confused old codger?

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): Own up.

Mr. Cook: I am happy to respond by saying, no, it was not me. I am very pleased to tell the House that, among my many responsibilities, I do not number the obligation of disclosing the sources of the press, which is probably as well for the press because, in my experience, quite a lot of what we read in the press is made up in the bar.

On the Government's record on crime, I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that, according to the British crime survey, crime has declined by 27 per cent. in the

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past five years. That is a stark contrast to the way in which crime doubled during the years when the Conservatives were in office.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Following the question about asylum asked by the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), would my right hon. Friend accept that there are many innocent victims of the culture that he was right to decry? Would not a debate on asylum give us an opportunity not only to consider the obligation that the Government and the country have to maintain civil liberties, but address the needs of people, such as my constituent, Erald Angoni, who is a 10-year-old Kosovan who cannot visit his dying grandfather because of the current clampdowns? Would my right hon. Friend accept that a debate on that matter could have benefits for those who are concerned about that part of the argument?

Mr. Cook: Of course I cannot comment on the individual constituency case to which my hon. Friend refers, but there are other ways in which he can seek to ventilate and remedy that problem. On the wider question, there is probably no other single issue that the House has discussed more in the past Session than asylum, and I would be very surprised if we did not continue that debate during this Session. My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right: it is important that we get the balance right between carrying out our international obligations to provide refuge for those who are fleeing persecution and safeguarding the civil liberties of the people of Britain, who also, of course, have perfectly reasonable grounds to expect that the Government will ensure that people do not abuse the asylum system by entering it for reasons other than to seek protection.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

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Points of Order

1.17 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you help the Leader of the House and, indeed, the whole House in pointing out that there is a distinction between the obligations on Ministers and what they do and say with regard to the House and the different role played by Opposition Members? The Leader of the House seemed to suggest, quite extraordinarily, that Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen had the same responsibilities as Ministers. Mr. Speaker, you must surely help him to make the distinction, which he has failed to make, that there is a real responsibility on Ministers to pay proper regard to their attitude to the House, whereas, frankly, the rest of us, as mere Members of Parliament, can pretty much say whatever we like when we like.

Mr. Speaker: I have said in the past that I have no responsibility for the content or quality of the replies of any Minister, including the Leader of the House. However, certainly in any of my statements about Ministers' responsibilities, I have said that the responsibilities are far different for those who hold Opposition posts. I shall say no more on that matter.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you be willing to look into the issue of the delays that now occur in the translation of ministerial written replies into the Official Report? At about 6 o'clock yesterday evening, I received a long-awaited written answer from the Department of Health—it goes back to November—informing me that the Government spend #53 million a year on promoting the consumption of fruit and vegetables. I had hoped that that answer would appear in today's Official Report, but it does not, and it is not on the internet

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either. That seems to be part of a new pattern that communications between Departments and Hansard—it may be for another reason—result in Hansard not producing written answers in a timely fashion.

Mr. Speaker: I would suggest that it would be better for the hon. Gentleman to take the matter up with the Editor of Hansard, if that is where the complaint lies, before raising it with the Speaker.

Mr. Chope: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, my complaint is not with the Editor of Hansard. My suspicion is that Departments are not communicating the information to Hansard.

Mr. Speaker: In that case, the hon. Gentleman should try the Minister first. When I was a shop steward, I used to say that people should take matters up with the manager before they went to the shop steward.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, we regard you as our shop steward in this matter because it relates to not one but several Ministers and certainly not to the Editor of Hansard. In recent weeks, since the introduction of the new system, there have been several cases of a written statement not being made available in the Library or in the Vote Office. Indeed, I have drawn that to your attention, Mr. Speaker. Could you, in the nicest possible way—in your usual extraordinarily tactful way—as our shop steward, make representations to the Government that if they are not ready to make a written statement available to Members of the House they only have to wait another day and then do so?


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