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13 Feb 2003 : Column 1044—continued

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I remind the Leader of House that it is important not only to keep hon. Members informed of dramatic developments in Iraq, but to give the House an opportunity to express a view. Does he recall that, last Thursday, I pointed out that the combination of tomorrow's inspectors' report to the Security Council and our absence from this place next week might mean that matters move quickly? I ask him again to consider carefully the timing, in Government time, of a full debate and vote on a sensitive, developing situation, especially the possibility

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of extending the time for further inspection or of a pre-emptive strike, with or without United Nations support in the form of another resolution.

Last week, the right hon. Gentleman said:

Many hon. Members found that reassuring. However, the Secretary of State for Defence said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch),

Will the Leader of the House give us a cast-iron guarantee that if there is any question of the UK Government supporting a second resolution, making an input into it or taking a different view, supporting American action and putting British troops into the area of hostility, the House will not only be informed but have an opportunity of making a decision? Surely that is the least that a United Kingdom Parliament should ask.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman is fair minded and I would not wish anyone to read into my use of the word "informed" anything that suggests that I do not fully understand the importance of the House expressing a view. Any comments that I made in response to the possibility of the House needing to debate the matter in the near future embraces the opportunity and right to express a view. We have always made it plain that we want the House to give its approval, through a substantive motion and a vote, to any action. Should there be a second resolution, I anticipate that we would want to ensure that the House has the opportunity to support it as soon as possible. In return, I ask the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to support any second resolution and its consequences.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): My right hon. Friend said that it would be inconceivable for British troops to be committed without a vote in the House of Commons. Let me press him on that. Does he accept that many Labour Members believe that going to war using prerogative powers and without a prior vote in the House of Commons to authorise action would be a betrayal and would split the Labour party and finish the Labour Government?

Mr. Cook: Of course, my hon. Friend is perfectly entitled to express his views as frankly and robustly as he wishes. However, he is not entitled to tamper with the views that I expressed. I said that it was inconceivable that any British Government could commit British troops without the support of the House of Commons. That remains the case. We have committed troops on many previous occasions without a substantive vote. I do not imply that we intend to proceed in that way on this occasion, because we do not. We want the full-hearted support of the House of Commons and we want that to be registered in the way that is open to it. I remind my hon. Friend that we held a debate on the previous Security Council resolution, which the House

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overwhelmingly endorsed. We continue to follow that approach. Should the inspectors' report require a second resolution, we will bring the matter to the House.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): On Tuesday, the House of Commons Commission and the Standards and Privileges Committee published their response to the report by the Wicks committee on standards in public life about self-regulation in the House of Commons. I appreciate the many pressing issues that confront the Leader of the House, but will he find time before the Easter recess for a debate on the response?

Mr. Cook: Of course, I am well aware of the report from the Standards and Privileges Committee. I studied it with interest and I fully understand the importance of those matters. I welcome the fact that there was no great contention about our positive response to the Wicks report. Most of its recommendations are welcome and we can respond to all of them. Taken with the report of the House of Commons Commission on the parts that affect it, we have the basis for an important debate. I hope that we can arrange it before Easter and I want the House to make an early decision on those matters.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): The Leader of the House knows that, a few weeks ago, an excellent debate was held in Westminster Hall on the role of national Parliaments in the European Union decision-making process. Given that the Convention on the Future of Europe is nearing the end of its work, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the Floor of the House on the role of national Parliaments in EU decision making?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises an issue about which we shall hear much more in the weeks ahead. It will be some time before the work of the Convention on the Future of Europe is complete and even longer—

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): Good.

Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman obviously wants the fullest possible period of reflection on the Convention's work. It will be some time before it is put before an intergovernmental conference for further decision. I am sure that the House will wish to discuss the matter and that there will be opportunities to do that. I welcome the fact that the Convention has provided us with a new innovation in our proceedings—

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): A new innovation?

Mr. Cook: I am grateful for the correction of my pleonasm. The Convention has provided an innovation that is welcomed by hon. Members of all parties. We now have a Committee to which our representative rather than a Minister reports. It may be desirable for it to meet again at some point.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): May we have an early debate on immigration procedures? I ask because my constituency has been devastated by the news that the Government are considering using the HMS Daedalus

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site in Lee-on-the-Solent as an accommodation centre for about 400 young male immigrants. We had been relying on the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), who had said:

However, the Minister has this morning refused an invitation to attend a public meeting on Saturday or to send an official from the Home Office to explain the position. She is also on record as saying:

In view of such matters, may we have an urgent debate? I would also suggest that the Minister be replaced by a speak-your-weight machine, because then we might get the truth.

Mr. Cook: I shall overlook that last remark, which was not worthy of an hon. Member of many years standing in this House.

Ministers who apply themselves diligently cannot necessarily be at any particular meeting on a specific date, especially at the short notice to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The Home Office and the Government will want to work closely with the elected representatives of the community and with the local authority to ensure that what is being proposed is fully understood.

We have debated this policy issue on a number of occasions, and there has been broad agreement on both sides of the House that there should be reception and induction centres for those who seek asylum in Britain. I understand that the Conservative party has a policy that all such people should be put in such centres, irrespective of where they have come from or the case that they make for entry. We cannot adopt such a policy—and the Conservatives would make it universal and compulsory—and at the same time object every time a site for a centre is identified.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): On 19 December, in the debate on the Christmas Adjournment, I raised a constituency case about a trading scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office, promised to ask the Department of Trade and Industry to respond to my concerns. I am sure that he has done that; however, nothing has emerged from the DTI. My constituent and I have put great pressure on the DTI on this issue, which has been going on for almost three years now. What we are now after is a small deputation to try to sort the matter out.

Mr. Cook: I regret to hear that my hon. Friend has not heard from the DTI. I know that my officials are diligent in pursuing issues that are raised with me during business questions. I assure my hon. Friend that they will pursue this issue as soon as the questions are over.

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