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Mrs. Ellman: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his definition of a bully? Is the Secretary of State, who is acting in the public interest a bully; or is Railtrack, which is gobbling up public funds and facing a deficit of £3.5 billion, the real bully?

Dr. Pugh: I do not want to enter into a discussion on whether bullying has taken place in this case. All I can say is that, if there is a bully, it is probably not the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions; it is probably the Treasury. I have served on the Transport Committee and listened to what people say, and the experience of everyone in the industry—the witnesses who gave evidence to the Select Committee, Bob Kiley and all the seasoned commentators—clearly shows that the Treasury's hand is behind almost the entire plot, but Treasury Ministers will not allow their role to be scrutinised. That strikes me as like turning the Select Committee into a charade.

Every intelligent political observer in the land knows the extent of Treasury policy involvement in all the key Departments, and it is disingenuous of Treasury Ministers not to appear before the Select Committee. If they cannot and will not appear before the Transport Committee, given the manifest evidence of their involvement in railway affairs, the outlook for Select Committees is grim. If their policy involvement is as pervasive as I believe it to be—not only in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, but in the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Health—Ministers who give evidence to Select Committees are like a kind human shield for the Chancellor, and Select Committees are doomed to interview a selection of monkeys while the organ grinder grinds on.

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A Treasury that calls the shots but lets others take the flak represents not only bad news for Ministers' careers, but an appalling abuse of parliamentary government. The Minister turns around to talk to one of his hon. Friends, but one of the things that he could do to reassure the Opposition more than anything else would be to say that the Government have changed their mind, that they have been convinced by the arguments and that Treasury Ministers will soon appear before the Select Committee.

6.33 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): I am pleased to respond to this interesting debate. The fact that I am doing so reflects the importance that the official Opposition attach to the issue of access to Government information and, in particular, to the behaviour of the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions in refusing to provide information to Members, in making disputed statements to the House and, of course, in presiding over chaos and increased delays on the railways. I am here; where is he? [Hon. Members: "Where is he?"] All I can say is that it is a very long minibus trip to see a bridge on Tyneside, North. The answer is that he is not here because he is frit. He does not want to come to the House.

Those are not my words, but those used by the Prime Minister in the John Smith memorial lecture in 1996.

Today we have debated how far this Labour Government have departed from that ideal. Let me make it clear to the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, who opened the debate for the Government, that this is not an attack on civil servants, and her claim that my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) made such an attack in his excellent speech was entirely unjustified. Perhaps she would now like to apologise for making that claim. She is not willing to do so.

We know where responsibility lies; it lies not with civil servants, but with Ministers. Ministers refuse to answer questions, and the Secretary of State who has made disputed statements in the House has refused to come to the House tonight to explain himself. It is little wonder that he is frightened to do so, given that virtually every time he makes a statement on Railtrack in the House it is disputed afterwards.

I am not surprised that he is frightened to come to the House, given the views of his hon. Friends. He cannot rely on Labour Back Benchers any longer. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) talked about the meeting between the Secretary of State and the chairman of Railtrack on 25 July and explained that the official minutes did not tell her whether or not she could believe the Secretary of State.

Mrs. Ellman: Does the hon. Lady recall the fact that I added to that comment by saying that the minutes did not prove whether the chairman of Railtrack was correct? Indeed, I suggested that although the Secretary of State was accountable to the House, the chairman of Railtrack was not and that because of his fiduciary duty he might have had a motive in not telling the truth.

Mrs. May: I have a little tip for the hon. Lady for when she intervenes in future: it is the phrase, "If you are in a hole, stop digging."

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The Secretary of State cannot rely on his Cabinet colleagues. I was interested to see that, when he responds to debates on this matter, he does not have a single member of the Cabinet alongside him, whereas a member of the Cabinet is supporting the Minister for Transport in this debate. It is also interesting that, on 22 November, The Guardian[Interruption.] Mention of that newspaper excites Labour Members, but it stated:

Was it not also interesting that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer listed the brilliant spending Ministers in this Government in an article in The Times on 22 November one name was missing? Whose? It was that of the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

The Secretary of State cannot rely even on the Prime Minister to support him because, as we learned from The Times last week:

Little wonder that the rest of the Government are distancing themselves from the Secretary of State, given his treatment of hon. Members, as shown in the examples given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). My right hon. Friend has been doing the House an excellent service in assiduously trying to wheedle the truth out of Ministers and has been blocked at every turn, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), whose telling questions on the Select Committee have revealed the extent of the Secretary of State's weasel words.

We are talking about a Government who in their ministerial code say:

On 27 November, I asked the Secretary of State

I was told:

That part of the code relates to information whose disclosure would harm the frankness and candour of internal discussion. How on earth does giving a date harm the candour and frankness of internal discussion?

Such a refusal to give details on such a question is what made the parliamentary ombudsman take the Home Office to task in his report. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale pointed out, that was the first time that a Department had refused to respond to the actions required by the parliamentary ombudsman. The ministerial code means nothing to the Government and their Ministers.

Let us look at the minute of the meeting of 25 July between the Secretary of State and the chairman of Railtrack. It was requested by members of the Select Committee, who were not the first Members of this House to do so. I tabled a question asking for the note and was

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told that it could not be disclosed. Then—what a surprise!—the Secretary of State indicated that he might be helpful to the Select Committee, although he was helpful to four selected newspapers before he was helpful to the Committee. The selective briefing of a note did not substantiate the Secretary of State's claims in the House.

The Minister for Transport, who will respond to this debate, was present at the meeting of 25 July. The Secretary of State said in this House that the chairman of Railtrack said at the meeting that

Does the Minister agree that that was said by the chairman of Railtrack at that meeting?

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