Previous SectionIndexHome Page

20 Mar 2003 : Column 1121—continued

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): In contrast to the uncharacteristically churlish welcome given to the

20 Mar 2003 : Column 1122

hon. Gentleman by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), may I say how pleased we Conservatives are to see him in his place today? It is good to see a fellow cyclist getting on.

May I give the strongest possible endorsement to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) about the Modernisation Committee chairmanship? As a member of the Committee, I welcomed what I think was the hon. Gentleman's assurance that the Executive would not interfere with the actions of the Committee if we, as its members, wanted the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) to continue as its Chairman.

Mr. Bradshaw: I think that that is absolutely right. As I said earlier, it is a matter for the Committee.

I was not particularly upset by the churlishness of the contribution of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). I know that he did not really mean it. Perhaps he is feeling a little uneasy about the position taken by the Liberal Democrats on some major matters of state in recent days and weeks. I hope that, like me, he welcomes the excellent new facilities on the premises for the locking of bicycles. Through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thank Mr. Speaker for his help in that regard.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): Will the deputy Leader of the House find time to debate the plight of Mordecai Vanunu, who has been rotting away in an Israeli jail for the past 18 years and has been in solitary confinement for 15 of them because—as the deputy Leader of the House will recognise—he told the truth about Israel's nuclear role when all around him were lying? If the Minister agreed to such a debate, the Government could reiterate their opposition to weapons of mass destruction and inform the House of what they are doing to ensure that Vanunu receives an early release.

Mr. Bradshaw: I cannot assure my hon. Friend that we will be able to find time to have a debate on the Vanunu case on the Floor of the House, but I am well aware of the issue, having been the Minister responsible for that part of the world for a year before taking my current post. The case concerns the Government greatly and I have personally raised it with the Israeli authorities. However, it is important to draw a distinction between that case and the action that the coalition is now taking in Iraq, which is unique in the world in being in contravention of chapter VII resolutions on its weapons of mass destruction and in having used them against its neighbours and its own people.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I too wish to pay tribute to the qualities of the former Leader of the House, although I should point out to some hon. Members that he is not dead—thankfully—and that we will continue to enjoy his contributions on a range of issues for many years to come. I am sure that Government Front Benchers in particular are looking forward to that. I would support permanency of tenure for the acting Leader of the House, if it were up to me, but will he continue with the Government's valuable consultation on public participation in the political process? Outside the House, today and yesterday, and in Manchester and Edinburgh yesterday, we have seen

20 Mar 2003 : Column 1123

inspiring examples of young people's interest in politics. The fact that they are demonstrating against the Government rather than for it is the Government's misfortune, but the more important point is that so many young people are concerned about the conduct of their country and the state of the world. Will the acting Leader of the House consult the young people outside to find out what has inspired them to join in the political process?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am not sure that that endorsement from the hon. Gentleman will stand me in good stead, but I am grateful for it nonetheless. Unusually, I agree with him on this point. My constituency offices in Exeter were invaded by a group of school pupils and college students yesterday. They staged a peaceful protest, and I spoke to one of them on the phone and offered to go and talk to them as a group—as I spend much time doing in my constituency. I was pleased that young people feel strongly enough on such issues to seek out their elected representative. I have one caveat, however, which is that I hope that they are not neglecting their studies. As long as young people are protesting peacefully—in a way that we cherish in this country but would not be possible in Iraq, as they will be aware—I welcome that, but I hope that they do it outside school hours.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): Given the intense warmth of our present relationship with France, is the Minister aware that some people would like to have a debate and, indeed, an immediate referendum on the euro? Does he agree that that would be opportunist and unprincipled, just as it would be for a referendum to be held—as some have suggested—on the back of what we hope will be a successful war?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am well aware of my hon. Friend's antipathy to UK membership of the euro at this stage. I can reassure him that whatever has happened in recent days and weeks to our relationship with our French friends, and what may happen after what we hope will be a successful outcome to the military campaign, the Government's decision on whether to recommend a referendum on the euro will always be based on our economic interest and the five tests.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): May we have a statement from the Home Secretary on the curious case of Mr. Andrew Murray, a former worker for the Soviet Novosti news agency, currently a member of the Communist party of Britain—it still exists, believe it or not—and an avowed supporter of nuclear North Korea, who has promised, in a report to the Communist party of Britain, that next weekend's great anti-war demonstration will have two slogans: not just "stop the war" but also "Blair must go"? Curiously, Mr. Murray is able to make that promise because he, of all men, is the chair of the Stop the War Coalition, which organises the huge demonstrations to which so many people, perhaps unwittingly, subscribe.

Mr. Bradshaw: Those of us who have taken part in demonstrations or been involved in protest organisations—and, yes, even I have—will have sometimes had strange bedfellows. However, I am sure

20 Mar 2003 : Column 1124

that the Home Secretary, and those who are involved in the anti-war movement—most of them for good reasons—will be very interested in what the hon. Gentleman has told the House.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): May I break with precedent and ask the acting Leader of the House a question on the business information that he has actually given us? I am disturbed to see that on Thursday 3 April it is the Government's intention to hold the Easter Adjournment debate and also to consider Lords amendments, on a day that already suffers from reduced hours. Any Adjournment debate is valued by Back Benchers, and I ask him to consider having only the Adjournment debate on that day.

Mr. Bradshaw: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but it has been traditional for the Easter Adjournment debate to run for three hours. It was only when I did it the time before last that it went on for what seemed like 12 hours, although it was not quite that long. We want to protect the time for the Easter Adjournment debate and the hon. Gentleman should not assume that we will spend as much time as he thinks considering the Lords amendments.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): Having the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) acting as the Leader of the House is a positive advantage, because I am able to read, through the columns of the excellent Express & Echo and Western Morning News—papers that we share—his views on modernisation of the House. Does the acting deputy Leader agree—[Hon. Members: "Acting Leader."] Indeed, I mean the acting Leader of the House. Does he agree that the jeers and "hear, hears" in this House are viewed dimly by the public, and that the polite applause given to his former boss, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), on Monday night is a better way for the House to show its views?

Mr. Bradshaw: As the shadow Leader of the House made clear, opinions on that point differ strongly. I have some sympathy for what the hon. Gentleman says, because sometimes hon. Members do not give enough consideration to how our behaviour affects people's views of Parliament. Certainly when I talk to young people in my constituency, they tell me that they find some of our customs and procedures rather strange. I am not a member of the Modernisation Committee, but I understand that it is investigating the matter.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): Can we find time for an early debate on the competence of this Government? I acknowledge the principled resignation from the Cabinet of the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook)—and we must respect that—but what happened yesterday was farcical. It would have been one thing if a Foreign Office Minister had replied to an urgent question on international development because no Minister from DFID was available. The House could have understood and accepted that. However, a Minister from the Department for International Development was available and she sat on the Front Bench throughout, but was not allowed to say anything. Furthermore, is not the Secretary of State for

20 Mar 2003 : Column 1125

International Development now the living embodiment of Churchill's dictum—that the problem with committing political suicide is that one lives to regret it?

Next Section

IndexHome Page