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13 Mar 2003 : Column 440—continued

Mr. Cook: I entirely understand the enormous importance of this matter to the general state of British manufacturing industry and to the local economies of the three areas most immediately affected. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is fully seized of the matter, and has spoken to her opposite number in the Dutch Government. I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to do what we reasonably can to achieve the best possible outcome. Should that outcome tragically involve a closure, the Government will do all they can to assist the local community and local people to deal with the consequences.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): Can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the workings of the National Care Standards Commission, with particular regard to the management of the closure of care homes? I ask this particularly in view of the closure of the Gatehouse care home in my constituency, whose residents were given only five days' notice to leave the home. All the research shows that such stress will cause illness and may even lead to premature death.

Mr. Cook: I am sure that all hon. Members share the hon. Gentleman's concern about such a deplorably short period of notice. It is certainly not consistent with the Government's view as to the reasonable notice period that should be required for people to be transferred from a nursing home that is closing. In this particular case, the home is privately owned, so we have no power to intervene regarding the period of notice, but it is not satisfactory. I hope that all responsible care home owners will follow the public sector in ensuring that any period of notice, if it has to be applied, is adequate and enables residents, their relatives and the local authority to respond adequately.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): Is it not imperative that we have a statement about the advice given by the Attorney-General? Members of Parliament who vote for an aggressive war launched by America and its collaborators may be culpable and may be committing an offence if the Attorney-General's advice were that Britain was going against international law. We would individually be responsible. Incidentally, should war start, would any time be allocated next week for ministerial resignation statements?

Mr. Cook: I shall certainly consider the latter point in my timetabling of business for the week. On the former matter, there is not much that I can add to the many answers that I have given already. I rather suspect that, if the advice were published, it would show that the Government's actions are wholly consistent with international law. Under those circumstances, I would not expect my hon. Friend necessarily to change his view of the action.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): Will the Leader of the House ask a Minister to come to the House and

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make a statement on early-day motion 851, which relates to a grossly misleading report in The Sun about a visit from the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to Redden Court school in my constituency?

[That this House condemns the grossly misleading report in the Sun Newspaper on Friday 7th March on the visit of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to Redden Court School in Upminster, which attempted to cast a slur on a highly successful and memorable occasion.]

Mr. Cook: I have seen the early-day motion, and I have first-hand experience of the extent to which Her Majesty's often excellent and much appreciated work is not fairly reported in the press. It is a mystery and an affront to local people when they participate in an event that they regard as successful and which they remember with a sense of gratitude to read a travesty of it in the local press. I urge those who write such pieces to try accurately to reflect the overall balance of opinion of people in the local community, who appreciate the visit and what the royal family has done for them.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): Although my private Member's Bill is due to be debated tomorrow, I would welcome any statement my right hon. Friend could make to the House then. Does he agree that yesterday's withdrawal of virtually all the international UN staff who administer the oil-for-food programme is the clearest possible indication that war is imminent, and that the House urgently needs to know how food supplies will be resumed in the event of a protracted conflict?

Mr. Cook: The fact that, understandably, responsible employers—in this case the United Nations—must necessarily make contingency plans need not mean that there will be a conflict; but in the present circumstances I well understand why the UN might decide to err on the side of caution. I will not pretend that it would be possible to maintain the programme at its present level of efficiency and volume without UN staff, but the UN has taken steps to ensure that local residents will be trained and equipped so that it can continue in their absence. I hope very much that that proves satisfactory.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): If we are, as it seems, on the point of war, is it not essential for the British Government to continue to make the case for the need to go to war to the British people? The Leader of the House said this morning, in very profound terms, that the Prime Minister would not go to war unless he believed that he had proper legal cover. In the event, either there will be legal cover or there will not—in which case it is surely absolutely essential for the Solicitor-General to come to the House and make the legal advice public before we have a proper debate.

Mr. Cook: It follows logically from what I said that the Prime Minister is satisfied that he has adequate legal authority in international law for any action that may be taken. Whether it is necessary for any other Law Officers to say that, given that both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister will undoubtedly participate in any exchanges in the House, is a matter of judgment; but I repeat that the Prime Minister will take no action that he believes to be inconsistent with international law.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Could we have a debate on the implementation of the Ottawa agreement, which

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was intended to ban the manufacture, stockpiling and use of anti-personnel landmines? That might allow us to discuss the inclusion of cluster bombs, and also to discuss the possibility of Ministers using their best endeavours to persuade their American counterparts to refrain from using those hideous weapons in any military action in Iraq.

Mr. Cook: I know of my hon. Friend's long-standing interest in this. She will recall that I was Foreign Secretary when we secured the Ottawa treaty, which I regard as an important step towards ensuring that we act to minimise the danger and risk that landmines pose to civilians. I am sorry that we could not persuade our United States colleagues to be a party to the treaty, and I hope that at some time in the future we shall be able to persuade them to reconsider.

Mr. Speaker: I call Mr. Clifton-Brown.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: You have already called me, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I apologise. It is the early morning start. I call Dr. Lewis.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): I am afraid I am a poor substitute for my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown).

When the debate on Iraq takes place, will the rule on collective Cabinet responsibility be relaxed for Ministers other than the Secretary of State for International Development? Would that not give Cabinet Ministers such as the Leader of the House an opportunity to explain to the House why they opposed the first Gulf war in 1991, when Saddam had invaded one of his neighbours, but apparently support the forthcoming second Gulf war when Saddam has not yet invaded any of his neighbours?

Mr. Cook: I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his interest in my views—

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): He has a detailed record.

Mr. Cook: I have never doubted it. Fortunately, so have I. At that time, the point on which I expressed concern was whether a bombing campaign lasting so many weeks was really required.

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is yes, I think Cabinet responsibility will apply. It will apply to all who are in the Cabinet at the time of the debate.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth): The Home Office recently published statistics on police authorities, revealing that West Yorkshire, where 39 of every 1,000 burglaries take place, is the worst-performing authority. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on policing? I might then be able to express my constituents' admiration for rank-and-file police officers in the area. I could also ask serious questions about the management of the West Yorkshire force, and insist that the chief constable begin replying to letters from Members such

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as me. In my letters I have asked for enhanced policing, on behalf of residents of Girnhill lane in Featherstone, and have asked searching questions about the recently reported statement of a senior police officer that West Yorkshire has stopped investigating burglaries.

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