§ Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)
Will the Leader of the House please give the business for the coming week?
§ The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)
You, Mr. Speaker, informed the House yesterday of the subjects for debate on the Queen's Speech. The business for next week will therefore be:
From Monday 25 June to Wednesday 27 June, continuation and then conclusion of the debate on the Queen's Speech.
THURSDAY 28 JUNE—Motions on programming and deferred Divisions.
FRIDAY 29 JUNE—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the following week will include:
MONDAY 2 JULY—Second Reading of the Homelessness Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the first business in Westminster Hall, following the conclusion of the Queen's Speech, will be—
THURSDAY 28 JUNE—Debate on Road Safety
§ Mrs. Browning
I thank the Leader of the House and welcome him to his new position in the House. I also welcome the Parliamentary Secretary. Privy Council Office, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg), who, I understand, is to ride shotgun for him. I welcome the hon. Gentleman to what I found to be an extremely interesting portfolio, and I hope that he finds it as interesting.
Will the Leader of the House give us more information about the business to be conducted next Thursday 28 June—programming and deferred Divisions? He will know the genesis of the changes to the way in which the House conducts its business—the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons, which was chaired by his predecessor. The House will be familiar with my grave reservations about the appropriateness of any Minister chairing a Select Committee. It therefore seems opportune, while such decisions are still being made, to ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider transferring responsibility for modernisation and changing the procedures of the House to the Procedure Committee or, at the very least, if the Modernisation Committee is to be reinstated, for it to be chaired by a Back Bencher, not a member of the Government.
154 I shall not rehearse what I may wish to share with the House next Thursday, but the debate on programming and deferred Divisions has come about because a member of the Government, using a Whip on matters on which there would normally be a free vote for hon. Members on both sides of the House, has insisted that the House change its procedures. Will next Thursday's business be conducted with a free vote for Labour Back Benchers?
We know that on the previous occasion, which was on the day of the American elections, Government Whips were rounding up Members from the bars of the Savoy to get them back to the House so that the Leader of the House could ensure that the democratic rights of Back Benchers were subjugated to the will of the Executive. If that is to be put before us next Thursday, we will oppose it. I seek the right hon. Gentleman's reassurance about that.
I note that the Leader of the House has not informed the House about any possible statements next week. Is the Prime Minister likely to make a statement next week on the Stockholm conference, not just because of the business that was transacted there, but because of the very worrying matters that surrounded the Stockholm conference, which have a read-across to any west European capital that might host—
§ Mrs. Browning
It is not often that I am grateful to a Liberal Democrat, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I apologise—I was referring to the Gothenburg conference. Serious incidents of public disorder occurred there, which could have a read-across to all countries. Surely the Prime Minister should make a statement to the House.
I am pleased to see that after business questions we are to have a statement on foot and mouth from the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Before the House rose for the general election, it was my clear understanding that the Prime Minister had taken personal responsibility for the management of the foot and mouth crisis. Will the Leader of the House confirm whether that is still the case? If so, when can we expect the Prime Minister, who I assume is still in charge of the matter, to report to the House and answer questions?
§ Mr. Cook
In a spirit of trying to build what consensus I can from the hon. Lady's questions—[Interruption.] No, I am not. I assure the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) that on this matter he and I can find full agreement. I welcome the hon. Lady's generous welcome to this post.
On the business for next week, yes, we will renew the programme motion. We will do so because there is a modernising agenda for the House, which must include the right of the House to carry out effective scrutiny and reasonable, modern working methods and hours for Members. There is a large agenda, on which I have been pressed to give a Government lead. Given the pressure to do so, the Leader of the House not taking an interest in the Modernisation Committee would send out a wholly inconsistent message. I hope that it will be set up as soon as possible and, as my predecessor did, I shall play a full 155 part on it. I would be subject to criticism from Labour Members and many others in the House if I did not show such leadership and interest.
I was pressed on whether the vote on Thursday will be a free vote. Yes, there will be a free vote on the Labour Benches. Given the hon. Lady's comments, I would welcome clarification of whether there will be a free vote among members of the official Opposition as well.
As the hon. Lady will be aware, the recent summit in Gothenburg took place while the House was not sitting. That is the only reason why there has been no statement on it. The Prime Minister has been assiduous in making statements on summits when the House has been sitting. Indeed, I personally accompanied him in making each of those statements in the previous Parliament.
There will be a statement on foot and mouth immediately after this business question. We were pressed repeatedly in the previous Parliament for more statements. I would have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that the new Minister responsible for foot and mouth will be making a statement to the House on the first available day. Surely that should be welcome to all those who demanded such a statement.
§ Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
May I press the Leader of the House on the question of Select Committees? Will he confirm that it is his intention to get them up and running before the summer recess? Does he realise that, if he is to achieve that, new Standing Orders will need to be brought before the House next week?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend is right: we face a very tight timetable to secure meetings of Select Committees before the House rises and to ensure that they have an opportunity to choose Chairs and decide when next to meet. Having said that, I shall endeavour to ensure that we meet that timetable. I share his concern that Select Committees should be set up as soon as possible and that the House should have the ability to use them for effective scrutiny. We will move on that as quickly as we can.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
May I add my warm welcome to the Leader of the House in his new post? My right hon. and hon. Friends and I look to him to play what we think can be a historic role in the reform of both Houses of Parliament. Both Houses, and their relations to one another, are looking to him for that initiative.
I endorse the view that has just been expressed about the need for urgent action to set up and begin the work of Select Committees. The Leader of the House will recall a long hiatus following the 1997 election before they got back to work, which we all very much regret. Given that it would seem that everybody in the House—from the outgoing leader of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who referred to the important role that Select Committees play, to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), whose comments on the issue in last night's debate were extremely important—is concerned that Select Committees should get back to work as soon as possible, I press the Leader of the House to use his very best endeavours to ensure that before the summer recess. If, 156 as I am sure he will understand, that is delayed until the autumn, they might not be back in action until the end of the year or even the new year.
In connection with the Gothenburg Council, I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to a planted question on today's Order Paper, which will provide only a written answer on the outcome of that Council. Will he use his best endeavours to ensure that the House receives such information by means of a full ministerial statement? We look to him to represent not just the Government but us, to ensure that on such matters the centre of gravity returns from the broadcasting studios to this House.
§ Mr. Cook
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome and support for my objective of getting Select Committees up and running before the House breaks for the summer recess. I will require the House's co-operation to meet that very tight timetable. At least two separate decisions will be required of this Chamber. As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) has pointed out, one will be to change the Standing Orders in order to track changes in Departments; another will be to approve nominations to the Committees. I shall endeavour to enable the House to reach decisions on those matters before the summer. I will need its co-operation to ensure that the decisions are taken and would welcome from the official Opposition the sort of support that we have heard from the hon. Gentleman.
On Gothenburg, a written answer comes to the House and is the property of the House. It is not the property of the wider public until it is made to the House. I can give the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members an assurance that they will find plenty of opportunities to debate Europe before we arrive at the summer recess.
§ David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Will the Government give any indication regarding hunting with dogs? The Queen's Speech refers to a free vote, but would not it be right for the Government to provide time for the matter to be finalised at long last? If there is an overwhelming majority in this Parliament for a ban on hunting with dogs, as there was in the previous one, let us finalise the issue once and for all, using Government time and the Parliament Act.
§ Mr. Cook
Our manifesto, on which we were elected, committed us to providing time for a free vote of Parliament. The Queen's Speech of the very first Session of this Parliament commits us to carrying through that manifesto commitment. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important for us to resolve the issue, and I believe that many hon. Members, whatever their view on its substance, would like it to be resolved in the current Session.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)
I, too, add my congratulations to the Leader of the House on his appointment.
As the right hon. Gentleman considers the week after next, will he bring to the House for decision regulations relating to the pay of hon. Members, office costs allowances and the other related matters that have been pending for a considerable time, on which there is need 157 and urgency? I hope that, unlike his predecessor, he will find an early opportunity to address these matters for the benefit of everyone in the House.
§ Mr. Cook
I am very sympathetic to the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. The decisions on pay and the office costs allowance affect not only hon. Members but our staff. In the wake of the election, I know that many hon. Members are facing decisions on staff that are difficult to take with the lack of certainty about the future of the office costs allowance. I hope that we can resolve the matter as soon as possible.
§ Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)
I very much welcome the announcement that we will discuss programme motions on Thursday. Many Back Benchers are very dissatisfied about the way in which such motions were discussed in the previous Parliament and want the current Parliament to be more efficient and effective. In that spirit, may I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the first Modernisation Committee report of the Session of 1997–98 and to the many ways in which it suggested that the legislative process could be modernised? Will he revisit the report and consider whether it would be helpful to draw Ministers' attention to ways in which they could progress Government business more effectively?
§ Mr. Cook
I am aware of the previous reports of the Modernisation Committee. In fairness, I should say that, of the 65 recommendations that the Committee made in the previous Parliament, 56 were carried through by the Government and the House. There is unfinished business and I assure my hon. Friend that we want to revisit it. That is, after all, why I have just committed the Government to setting up the Modernisation Committee and myself to playing a full part in it.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
Is the Leader of the House aware that Gosport was not the only constituency in which the local provision of hospital services was the biggest issue on the doorstep? Is he aware also that the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), whom I am pleased to see in his place, and I propose to form an all-party group on the local provision of hospital services? Will he provide an early opportunity for the issue to be debated in the House, as it is of overwhelming concern to our constituents?
§ Mr. Cook
The House will be aware that our priority for early business is to ensure that we get under way with the Bills to which we have committed ourselves in the Queen's Speech and about which the House has heard. I am confident that there will be many opportunities in the current Session for the House to debate health matters. Of course, we are well aware that the health service is not what we would wish it to be. That is why we are in the middle of the largest hospital-building programme that the NHS has ever known, and why we have committed ourselves to a 10-year programme for the NHS that will provide an additional 7,000 beds. If that had been done in the decade before, when the previous Government were in office, we might not now have to make good the damage that was done.
§ Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
May I add to the weight of congratulations to my right hon. Friend 158 on his appointment and welcome the tone of his response to the various questions on Select Committees? Can the House take that as a sign that my right hon. Friend will set himself the task of being the first Leader of the House for generations to supervise shifting the balance back from Government to the House? Will he provide a positive response to the Liaison Committee report that was produced in the previous Session and the excellent Hansard Society report that was issued this week? It proposes giving greater resources, status and independence from Government to Select Committees.
§ Mr. Cook
The process of modernisation is necessarily continual; we have therefore already undertaken much modernisation. My hon. Friend undervalues my predecessors' contribution in the previous Parliament, which included introducing Westminster Hall debates, the changes to Thursday sittings and draft legislation. However, there is no ground for complacency, and I assure my hon. Friend that if we are serious about having a modern House that is fit for the 21st century many tasks remain to be done. I shall continue the process of modernisation.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I fully support the views that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) expressed. I congratulate the Leader of the House on his appointment and make a further plea to him to consider the House's method of selecting hon. Members to serve on Select Committees. Will the right hon. Gentleman bear it in mind that it is important that the Selection Committee is not dominated by the usual channels? Will he also reconsider what appears to be his decision to continue with the Modernisation Committee, which he will chair? The Government could be perceived as abusing their position to devise procedures to help them to get their business through rather than enabling the House to scrutinise them and hold them to account. Does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that the Modernisation Committee's functions could be carried out by the Procedure Committee, the impartiality and good sense of which was shown by its excellent report on Mr. Speaker's election?
§ Mr. Cook
I fully concur that the Procedure Committee produced a good report, but the Modernisation Committee must consider wider issues than procedure. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, as Chairman, I shall not try to railroad or bulldoze the Committee; I am sure that he would not allow me to do that. In the previous Session, the Modernisation Committee produced consensual reports. If I withdrew from the Committee, did not participate fully in and show commitment to its work, that could convey the wrong message.
I am aware of the debate about the appointment of Select Committee members, which was rekindled by the Hansard Society this week. I sense that the House wants the Select Committees to be up and running as quickly as possible. It is therefore not the time to start to rewrite the basis on which members are nominated.
§ Mr. Cook
It is self-evident that if the House wants the Select Committees to be up and running in the next four or five weeks, that will have to be done by the means that 159 are available to us. Hon. Members must make a choice about that. I stress to the Opposition that Labour Members who are nominated must be elected by the parliamentary Labour party. That must be included in the timetable for creating Select Committees. If the Opposition also did that, both sides would use a democratic process.
§ Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South)
It became a practice in the previous Parliament for the Welsh Affairs Committee to examine the Queen's Speech for matters that are relevant to Assembly Members. As former Chairman of the Committee, may I add my weight to calls for the Committee to be set up as soon as possible so that we can examine some of the matters in the Queen's Speech?
§ Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)
Of course, the Leader of the House needs the House's co-operation to set up Select Committees before the summer recess, but he rightly identified the first two steps as motions that must be moved by the Deputy Chief Whip. He has to create the Selection Committee, and there is no reason for not tabling that motion next week. He must then table changes to Standing Orders to reconfigure the departmental Select Committee structure to the new architecture in Whitehall. That is easily achieved by making the Select Committee that will cover environment, food policy and agriculture bigger. The others can remain more or less the same. Why does not the Leader of the House take both steps next week?
§ Barbara Follett (Stevenage)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and welcome the emphasis that he has placed on modernisation. Will he continue to bear in mind the real need to bring the hours of this place into line with the 21st century rather than the 19th?
§ Mr. Cook
I am very sympathetic with the point that my hon. Friend makes. I speak as a Member of long standing who was here throughout the 1974 to 1979 Parliament, when our hours were longer than those of any subsequent Parliament. If we want to demonstrate that the House is in the 21st century, we should adopt working methods that other people can relate to rather than stare at in wonderment. It is very important that the House 160 should be able to carry out effective scrutiny, but wasting the time of the House of Commons does not constitute effective scrutiny.
§ Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)
The Leader of the House, whose appointment I, too, warmly welcome, announced the Second Reading of a Government Bill on, I think, Monday week. May I ask him not automatically to timetable every single Government Bill? We discovered in the previous Parliament that that can lead to an inflexible structure and inadequate discussion of the Bills. Will he explore with good will some alternative, more flexible arrangements?
§ Mr. Cook
I am absolutely enthusiastic about exploring with good will more flexible arrangements, but good will has to be a two-way street. Without good will on the other side, the remedy of timetabling that enables Back Benchers to take part in debates held at reasonable hours is available to us. If we can find good will on both sides, I am sure that we can find alternative, flexible solutions, but we need that good will on both sides.
§ Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)
My right hon. Friend will recognise that the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee has a legislative role to play, and that once that Committee is established it will be able to become involved in legislation. Will he ensure that it is established at the earliest possible date? Will he also give an assurance that—as the timetables for new measures become apparent—no new measure will be laid before the House until that Committee has come into being?
§ Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)
Perhaps, in welcoming the right hon. Gentleman and the new Parliament, I can ask a non-partisan question that affects a large number of our fellow countrymen and women. The matter has been drawn to my attention in my capacity as co-chairman of what I hope is one of the most respected all-party committees. At which ministerial questions will Members from all parts of the House have the opportunity to ask questions specifically about the needs, interests and welfare of disabled people?
§ Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time on the current situation in the middle east, and in particular on the problems in the West Bank and Gaza? He will know that, even though those difficulties have been going on for some time—since last autumn—and there is considerable disquiet among many hon. Members, particularly about the actions of the Israeli Government, we have still not had a debate in the House on the subject 161 in all that time, other than a short Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall. I hope that he will agree that this subject deserves a reasonable length of debate in the House.
§ Mr. Cook
I have absolutely no difficulty in agreeing with my hon. Friend that that is an important and grave matter. It occupied much of my time in the previous Parliament, and I express my continuing distress that the violence continues. The more that the violence continues, the further we move from the negotiating table, which can be the only basis for a secure and permanent peace.
I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that, tomorrow, the House will hold a debate on foreign affairs and defence in which the Foreign Secretary will participate. That will be an appropriate and suitable moment for the House to air those concerns and others on foreign policy.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate so that the House can discuss whether it is appropriate that hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies can vote on business that affects only England? Does he understand that there is a great sense of unfairness in England about that arrangement, coupled with a sense of unfairness that Scotland is over-represented in this place, and overfunded too? Should not we discuss those matters, and soon?
§ Mr. Cook
That is the proposal. It is for the Boundary Commission to make proposals, but we anticipate it happening in this Parliament.
On the question of Scottish Members participating in the business of the House, this is a unitary Chamber—one in which all Members have equal rights. If the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) is proposing that that should be changed, he is proposing a fundamental constitutional change that would be warmly welcomed by the Scottish nationalists north of the border.
§ Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's appointment, which comes with the highest expectations about what he will do. He knows that serious reform of the House comes only when the House has a Leader who is committed to that reform. That was true of St. John-Stevas and of Richard Crossman, and we hope that his name will be added to that list.
Modernisation is a weasel word: it means either that the Government get their business more efficiently or that we shift the balance between Parliament and the Executive. Is my right hon. Friend committed to shifting that balance and is he prepared for his tenure as Leader of the House to be judged by that yardstick?
§ Mr. Cook
I am absolutely committed to finding the right balance, but I say to my hon. Friend that he would 162 be unwise to identify a conflict between the Government securing the measures that they were elected to deliver and the House providing effective scrutiny, both of the text of that legislation and of other acts by the Government. Nothing would bring parliamentary democracy more into disrepute than the Government being unable to deliver on the commitments that they made to their electorate.
§ Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)
Encouraged as I am by my colleagues, may I say what a pleasure and a great privilege it is to return to the House to serve the worthy people of Castle Point?.
May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to hold a debate on the euro referendum so that we can expose the tensions and clear up the confusion that is obvious between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor on that issue?
§ Mr. Cook
I must say that the proposition that there are tensions on that matter between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor seems to rest on an extremely large reading of what the Chancellor said yesterday. That was a faithful restatement of Government policy, and it has been Government policy since 1997.
The House will have opportunities to debate European policy over the next few weeks. We shall be particularly interested to learn what will be the policy of the Opposition after their defeat at the election, and whether their position on the euro will be "never" or whether they will rethink their opposition, having been defeated on their commitment to rule the euro out for only one Parliament.
§ Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)
I also welcome my right hon. Friend to his post. Following a recent visit to my constituency. he knows the importance of tourism to the rural economy. Will he find time for a debate on the impact of the foot and mouth crisis on the rural economy, particularly tourism, as many people are wondering whether they will survive this season? The Government need to address the future of our rural economies, especially the problems in the tourism industry.
§ Mr. Cook
I fully understand that foot and mouth has had an impact not only on the agriculture industry, but on the wider rural economy, especially tourism and the leisure industry. Those matters are entirely relevant to the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which follows. After all, they are matters that the Government will consider carefully. [Interruption.] Obviously the microphone is paying close attention to this exchange. That is why the Government have changed the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food into a Ministry for rural affairs and the environment. We shall take that wider perspective as we address the crisis in the rural economy.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)
May I, on behalf of the Ulster Unionist group, welcome and congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment? Will he take account 163 of the concern that exists throughout the United Kingdom among service personnel and others who were exposed to chemical treatment before and during the Gulf war, and those who currently suffer from Gulf war syndrome? Will he provide time for that and other related matters to be debated, so that those who served our country and who are now suffering are properly treated?
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman has expressed himself on a matter about which he obviously feels deeply, and which is of deep concern to a number of former service men. In the previous Parliament, there were a number of exchanges on this matter in the House, and I must tell him that we have no plans to hold further debates on it. However, he has available to him all the devices of the House to pursue this matter, which is clearly of real concern to him.
§ Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)
May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his recent appointment? In the light of President Bush's continued resistance to the Kyoto protocol, when might we have another opportunity to discuss the protocol, particularly with a view to establishing a common European stance? Will he give assurances that the environmental impact of transport will continue to be at the forefront of those debates following the departmental restructuring?
§ Mr. Cook
I reassure my hon. Friend that, in the decisions that the Government take, we shall continue to put great emphasis on the environmental impact of transport, as the Chancellor has already shown in successive Budgets. On the Kyoto principle, my hon. Friend will be aware that, at the Gothenburg summit, all the countries of the European Union agreed that it was important that European Union members should proceed to ratify the Kyoto protocol. It would not be right to proceed with further parliamentary processes before the forthcoming meeting on the Kyoto protocol, which I think will be held in Germany next month. However, I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are fully committed to carrying out our part of the European share of the cut in greenhouse gas emissions, which we were required to do as part of the Kyoto protocol. We have every intention of proceeding and it is very important for the next generation that we do so.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)
In view of the importance of programme motions to the proper scrutiny of Bills in Standing Committees, does the Leader of the House accept that they should be properly debated and voted on? Does he also accept that it would not fill the House with confidence about his reforming zeal as a new Leader of the House dedicated to improving scrutiny of the Executive if his very first act were to ensure that programme motions were not properly debated and were voted on in deferred Divisions?
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that any motion that is tabled can be voted on. He must be aware that the last report of the Modernisation Committee made observations on that matter. The matter is relevant to the motion that we shall consider next Thursday. 164 It would be a rather bad start for the Leader of the House if he began by ignoring the Modernisation Committee's recommendations.
§ Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 23 on national missile defence, which has the support of more than 170 Members?
[That this House expresses concern at President Bush's intention to move beyond the constraints of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in developing missile defence; and endorses the unanimous conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which recommended that the Government voice the grave doubts about NMD in the UK, questioned whether US plans to deploy NMD represent an appropriate response to the proliferation problems faced by the international community and recommended that the Government encourage the USA to explore all ways of reducing the threat it perceives..]
Does my right hon Friend agree that, in the past, there has been a parliamentary tradition whereby major changes in defence policy have not always received the fullest parliamentary scrutiny? In the spirit of a modernising agenda designed to give greater powers of scrutiny to the House, will he find time in the very near future to arrange a debate in Government time on President Bush's proposals for national missile defence, particularly its implications for the United Kingdom's defence and foreign policy?
§ Mr. Cook
I have read the early-day motion. The crucial issue is the extent to which the United States can find agreement with Russia. We have urged on Washington the importance both of consulting closely with close allies and of entering into dialogue with Russia to find a strategic framework within which America can meet its real and strongly perceived perceptions of the threat to it from rogue states. It would be entirely proper for any of the Members who signed the early-day motion to raise their concerns in the debate on foreign affairs and defence to be held tomorrow.
§ Mr. Forth
I congratulate the Leader of the House on his recent promotion. As a Member of the House with long and distinguished service and a parliamentarian of great repute, will he give us his personal guarantee that he will always put first the interests of the House as a whole, and that he will ensure that in no way will the traditional rights of opposition and scrutiny be reduced in the interests of the Government getting their business more easily, more speedily or without proper scrutiny and accountability?
§ Mr. Cook
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. One of the greatest delights of my new post is that I shall be able to see even more of him.
I hope that in my period in office I shall be able to provide for more effective scrutiny of Government legislation and actions by all Members of the House, whether on the Opposition or on the Government side. It is an important principle of parliamentary democracy that Governments deliver the programme on which they were elected, so I do not intend to do anything that will 165 undermine the public's faith in the proposition that what they voted for is what they get from the Government whom they elected.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
In welcoming the right hon. Gentleman to his new post, may I remind him of the agonising debate that we had in the last Parliament on therapeutic cloning? After long debate and much thought, many Members on both sides of the House decided that we would vote in favour of therapeutic cloning on the basis that we would have an early Bill to outlaw human cloning for other purposes. That legislation was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. Will we have an early debate on this matter, and will we have an opportunity to consider legislation on human cloning as it is a grey area that has not yet been outlawed in this country, and all Members agree that it has huge ethical implications?
§ Mr. Cook
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this complex issue, which provokes strong feeling. He will be aware that, because of its complexity, this will not be an easy matter on which to legislate. The commitments that we have given are for a full Parliament and not just for the first year. I believe that this is an example of when draft legislation may be of value in enabling those interested in the subject to comment before the House legislates, but we shall have to explore that as the Parliament proceeds.
§ Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)
We understand that the Government have a busy programme, but surely top priority should be given to an issue that was considered urgent and was promised in the 1997 manifesto but has not yet been delivered. Will the right hon. Gentleman provide the House with an early statement about why the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill, which would help to tackle a problem that kills 120,000 people each year and for which the health service needs new recruits, is not mentioned in the Government's programme for the first year, given that it was first promised in 1997? Public health physicians up and down the country are amazed that the Government's priorities are seriously in danger a affecting the health of the nation.
§ Mr. Cook
It was a disappointment to the Government that we were not successful in securing the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill at the end of the previous Session. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there was some controversy over the proposals and there was not unanimous support for the Bill. As the Prime Minister has said, it is not the position that the only Bills to be put before the House are those named in the Queen's Speech. If time permits, such legislation will be a high priority for us, and we will try to accommodate it in the time available. It will certainly be a high priority for a future Session of this Parliament.
I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Department of Health has two Bills in this Session, and the health of the nation is well catered for in the priorities set out in the Queen's Speech.