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Mrs. Browning: I thank the Leader of the House for that information. Before we discuss the business for the week following the recess, may I say that today should have been renamed "Gardeners' Question Time" because there are no fewer than 67 Government-planted questions on the Order Paper, no doubt in the hope that the answers would not be noticed by hon. Members who are tidying their desks and waiting to depart for the recess?
While I am on the subject of unfinished business and what hon. Members might notice in the next 24 hours, will the Leader of the House confirm that before the House rises tomorrow, the Government will have placed in the Vote Office the promised new ministerial code of conduct designed to prevent a repetition of the controversies that surrounded the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) and the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz)? As we understand it, it is to be accompanied by an inaugural code of conduct to govern Ministers' special advisers and spin doctors to stop the bullying of civil servants. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reassure me that that document will be made available and not just slipped on to the shelves once the House has risen.
I also wonder whether the Leader of the House will arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to come to the House in the week after the recess. The Prime Minister appointed Mr. Kiley during the election when there was no opportunity for us to discuss his decision. Yesterday, the Secretary of State sacked Mr. Kiley by press release.
Perhaps the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions will deal with another matter when he comes to the House, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) raised with the Prime Minister yesterday. My hon. Friend expressed concern that the GNER east coast main line contract might be a short-term contract. In reply, the Prime Minister said:
Despite what the Prime Minister said yesterday, it is obvious that the Government have torn up their rail policy and delivered a slap in the face for the Strategic Rail Authority. Given that there are so many pressing issues for which the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has responsibility, he should come to the House not just to make a statement, but for a whole afternoon.
Mr. Cook: First, on my hon. Friends' skills in gardening, I am repeatedly pressed in business questions to provide assurances that statements will be made while the House is sitting, not after it has risen. It is to my hon. Friends' credit that they have worked hard to ensure that their questions are answered while we are sitting.
Mr. Kiley was appointed in the spring on the basis that he agreed that he would carry out discussions with the bidders on the public-private partnership plan and that he would try to seek agreement. That was the basis of his appointment, but three weeks ago, he said that he could not carry it out and could not deliver what he had agreed to deliveran agreement with the contractors. It is well known that, this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions received an approach from the former chairman of London Transport and a majority of the board, saying that they thought it impossible to work with Mr. Kiley. In those circumstances, my right hon. Friend had the choice of sacking the majority of the board or sacking Mr. Kiley, and I would not like to think what the House would have done if he had sacked the majority of the board.
On GNER, it is the case that because of the very substantial infrastructure works required following the Hatfield incident, it is not presently possible to agree with the bidders a long-term franchise of 20 years. That is still the aspiration of the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, but in the meantime, to provide continuity, he has extended the present franchise by two years to 2005, but I stress that the agreement to extend it is not simply a matter of the time in that agreement; there is also provision to upgrade the London-Leeds service, so that people can travel every
Finally, the hon. Lady will have noticed that the last Bill that I mentioned in the business statement was the Homelessness Bill, to which we shall return on the Monday of the second week after our return. She will also recall that I gave an undertaking to the House that we would not programme that Bill, to find out whether we could make progress by agreement. I am pleased to say that proceedings on the Homelessness Bill have been completed in Committee in advance of the date agreed. I welcome that, and provided that we continue to get that co-operation, we will be able, on a case-by-case basis, to consider whether programming motions are required.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): When we return after the recess, can we have an early debate about the London underground because one of Mr. Bob Kiley's persistent criticisms has been that the Government's PPP scheme obfuscates management? I should like to know what the role of London Transport is. Is it just a dog that barks to the Government's tune? What is its future? The infrastructure companies are very secretive. Transport for London, under Mr. Bob Kiley, will eventually control the underground, but only partially. The Government have a primary responsibility for the whole system, but are keeping it at arm's length. So can we have a debate to sort out who does manage the London underground?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend cannot have it both ways; he cannot insist that we listen to the voice of London Underground and then complain when we listen to the majority of the London Underground board, who clearly told the Secretary of State that they could not continue to work with Mr. Kiley and did not think he could find a way forward. The answer to my hon. Friend's question is clear: at the end of the public-private partnership, London Underground and London Transport will manage the service; they will determine the service; and they will be responsible for safety.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): In the light of this week's events, does the Leader of the House accept that Select Committees are only one way in which the House exerts its authority over the Executive and holds them to account, and undertakes proper scrutiny on behalf of the public? Does he accept that the Home Secretary's announcement of the crime figures today to the media and not directly to the House is not acceptable, as it does not give us an opportunity to question him on what is clearly a deplorable situation, especially in relation to violent crime and the clear-up rate? Does he also accept that for Members to be given a spinny document by the new Home Secretary entitled "Time to Deliver" today is totally inappropriate? With street crime as bad as it is, it should surely be "Time to Stand and Deliver".
The Leader of the House will be aware that the House has on the whole been able to maintain an all-party approach to events in Northern Ireland. Does he accept that the situation is very fragile at the moment and that peace in Northern Ireland is extremely delicately balanced? Will he give an assurance that, if the House is faced with a major change in the situation in Northern Ireland, it will be recalled?
Mr. Cook: I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's comments on the publication of crime statistics. Annual crime figures have repeatedly been produced in public when they are ready and are available for debate by the public as well as by Parliament. They have not been released in a statement to the House. As Leader of the House, I do not think that it would be possible to manage business if we had to have a statement for every annual publication of statistics.
On the substantive issue, let us not lose sight of the fact that the figures show that overall crime is down by 2.5 per cent., burglary is down by 8 per cent and vehicle crime is down by 7 per cent. It is true, as the hon. Gentleman says, that violent crime is up. It is up by 3 per cent., which is a lot less than the trend over previous years. Although any increase is too much, the trend is down. I hope that our efforts to reduce violent crime will achieve a decline, as there is in other crimes at the present time.
Obviously, if there is a serious situation in Northern Ireland, the recall of Parliament is an option for the Government, and Members can call for it. However, it would be a very unusual Leader of the House who gave a guarantee that the House would be recalled before it even adjourned.