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Mr. Tyler: Will the Leader of the House consider the mechanism whereby Parliament learns of important new Government developments? There are, of course, statements and written answers, but will he consider topical questions? As an illustration, I understand that yesterday a consultation document on combined heat and power was released on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website, but it appeared nowhere in the House. Will he consider that?
Reverting to the report in The Independent by Don Macintyre, does the Leader of the House acknowledge that I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have consistently supported the Modernisation Committee's proposals to give Select Committees greater independence, integrity and authority, but that, according to my reckoning, eight Ministers, 28 Parliamentary Private Secretaries, nine Government Whips and 12 ex-Government Whips in effect joined the Conservatives in the Lobby on Tuesday night?
Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that the Prime Minister has to go on television to talk about the euro and Lord Heseltine has to use the pages of the Daily Express to talk to his Conservative colleagues to advance the case for it, but that our Select Committee, which reports to this Chamber, has no such opportunity to consider the advantages and disadvantages of entry? Is he aware that the Treasury Committee seems to have been nobbled by the Treasury itself? Indeed, is he aware that the Treasury seems to have access to the private discussions of the Select Committee?
I pray in aid material collected by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) under the data protection legislation. When I put on my specs I shall read what the Treasury has been saying about my hon. Friend. Not only did the Treasury refer to his questions as "whiskery", which seems a curious description, but, back in January, it identified him as "the prime mover" in the Select Committee behind the request for the "Five Tests inquiry". The Treasury could have known that only if it was receiving leaks from the Committee. What does the Leader of the House have to say about that?
Mr. Cook: I will consider the point that the hon. Gentleman made about the combined heat and power announcement. Websites are available in this building, howeveralthough I should never accuse the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst of having such a thing anywhere in his office.
Don Macintyre will be intensely flattered by this morning's exchange in that he has been quoted so often. I would not wish in any way to detract from the praise given to him by all three of us who have taken part in those exchanges, all three of whom hope that we will be mentioned in a future column by Mr. Macintyre in suitable terms.
I was glad that, on Tuesday night, we had a Labour majority for the reform that I proposed on the Committee of Nomination, and I regret the fact that the very large Conservative majority against it succeeded in tilting the balance the other way.
Mr. Cook: Indeed, but there was a much larger Conservative balance. An alliance between the Conservative party and old Labour would be formidable. It would, of course, be a matter for wider political comment; Mr. Donald Macintyre might wish to reflect on it in a future column.
If there has been any impropriety in the Treasury Committee, the House has the remedy available through its own Select Committee system. That is not a matter for me in the first instance. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) complained about the Treasury's describing one of his colleagues as "whiskery", but I can only say that, after 40 years of sporting a beard, I think that "whiskery" is one of the highest forms of praise.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): I acknowledge that my right hon. Friend is an ardent supporter of proportional representation, but some of us are against it to the point that we do not like what is happening in Scotland, where power has been handed over to the Tories, and in Wales
The new-fangled Select Committee system would have handed over power to the political enemythe Torieswho were going to sit on a joint committee to select Labour Members of Parliament. They are the same Tories who closed every pit in my constituency. Does not my right hon. Friend understand that some of us do not need official Whips to tell us what to do? As for that tinpot Liberal there, the hon. Gentleman should ensure that he gets his information right. Yes, there were people on the door arguing for old-fashioned socialists to stop the drift to giving power to the political enemy. I was one of them. Unlike the Tories who want money for their shadow Cabinetthat is why they voted for the moneyI am an unofficial Whip who declares, "I don't want none; I'll do it for nowt."
Of course my hon. Friend is right that I support PR. I make no bones about that. I understand entirely that I have some way still to climb on this side of the House to make progress with thatand an awful long way to climb on the other side of the House. As he mentioned the Scottish Parliament, I should like him to reflect on how the PR system and the fact that the Scottish Parliament represents the whole of Scottish public opinion has helped to build a consensus, which will ensure that no one will ever dare try to abolish the Scottish Parliament.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate early next week on today's alarming news that the Bank of England's reserves are more than $450 million£300 million, or £26 for every family in Britainlower than they otherwise would be because of the Chancellor's decision to instruct the Bank to sell its gold and put 40 per cent. of the money into euros? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that this is a serious issue and that, if we do not have a debate, it will give the impression that the Government want to hold debates on things that are going well, but are not prepared to face up to the issues when a horrible mistake that costs the taxpayer a fortune is made?
Mr. Cook: I can say only that the hon. Gentleman has again lived up to his reputation by raising an issue that is three years old. Of course, the sale of the gold had nothing to do with the overall level of the reserve and everything to do with the rebalancing between liquidity and gold. As he raises the issue, let me say that I am delighted, because I feel much more secure and sleep much better in my bed in the full knowledge that a much lower debt hangs over the Bank of England and the Government. Indeed, he gives me the opportunity to remind the House that the Government that he supported, and, from time to time, aspired to be a member ofindeed, that he supported that Government from time to time is also probably a fair riderdoubled the national debt. This Government have halved the national debt. If he is looking for prudence, it lies in our record and not his.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the enlargement of the European Union? He will know that Commissioner Verheugen has published a report indicating that the applicant countries may be in the EU by 2004. Clearly, although hon. Members want to debate the euro and the five economic tests, other European issues can be discussed. Enlargement is an important issue.