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Dr. John Pugh (Southport): Has the Minister noted that many Labour Members have today complained about the fragmentation of the railways? Will he explain to them, and to us, how the proposals for London Underground can subtly avoid that ill?
John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): I, too, thank my right hon. Friend for his announcement. I was especially pleased to hear how he intends to treat shareholders. Everybody knows that entering the shareholding stakes is a gamble: the people who win are happy when it happens, but if they lose, they lose, and that is part of the game. I also thank him for his announcement regarding the west coast main line.
Will my right hon. Friend re-emphasise that safety and service to the customer are paramount, and that any new company will take that on board? In relation to the rail industry as a whole, will he ensure that no company uses the creation of any new company as an excuse to shed workers and so get more profit for its shareholders?
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of safety: there must be no compromise on railway network safety. He voices concern about the position of railway workers. The company that takes over responsibilities from Railtrack will make decisions on that matter, but it is important to note that the new company will be able to invest its money in the work force, whereas Railtrack has compromised on that. Real improvements are possible.
My hon. Friend will welcome the fact that we have, through the administrator, made sure that all existing pension benefits for former railway workers will be met in full. There is no question that administration will affect the pension benefits of former railway workers.
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): Mr. Deputy Speaker, with permission I should like to make a short statement about the business for the remainder of this week.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the debate tomorrow in Government time. I hope that he can confirm that the House will have frequent opportunities to debate the very important matter that we will cover tomorrow, and that a combination of statements and debates will be made available whenever circumstances demand. The one the right hon. Gentleman has announced for tomorrow is very timely.
The Leader of the House will have noticed that the issues that we are dealing with this week were tabled as long ago as July, because that is the way the House works. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that we must try to respond as best we can to rapidly changing circumstances. In the light of that, will he consider, even at this stage, changing the business that he has announced for Friday? Cleaner fuels may be an important issue, but are not necessarily a timely one.
I ask the Leader of the House to consider a debate on the relationship of Ministers' special advisers and civil servants and how the integrity of the civil service can be guaranteed. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman shares my view that our civil service is the envy of the world in terms of its professionalism and integrity. It has now been compromised by the actions of special advisers, and a debate on Friday would indeed be a timely opportunity for the Government to reinforce their commitment to the integrity of the civil service. They might be able to tell us how that will be achieved in future more than it has been in the recent past.
Mr. Cook: I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment. When I told the House in June that one of the delights of my new role would be that I would see more of the right hon. Gentleman, I had no idea how
I am happy to begin on a note of common ground with the right hon. Gentleman and say that we will have repeated debates on the issue of terrorism. The issue will be very much before the nation and before the House. Whenever appropriate, we will return to it in debates.
The Government stand ready robustly to defend the integrity of the civil service, and to justify the codes that we have produced which provide a clear understanding of how civil servants, special advisers and Ministers should behave. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to turn to the issue on an Opposition day, we shall be delighted to debate it robustly with him.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Can my right hon. Friend offer the House an explanation of why the long-announced debate on drugs has been deferred? Can he assure the House that the debate will take place in the near future?
Mr. Cook: Yes, I can. As my hon. Friend will be aware, and as the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary earlier this afternoon made a full statement on the emergency legislation that he is preparing against terrorism. The Home Office is now responsible for bringing forward possibly three different Bills. These are the emergency measures against terrorism, the possibility of an extradition Bill and the possibility of an asylum Bill. Given that intense work load and the great importance of ensuring the security of the United Kingdom, it is understandable that in these circumstances a debate that requires the presence of the Home Office should be deferred. I hope to see the debate reinstated at an appropriate time when the Home Office can appropriately find priority for it.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Given what the Leader of the House has just said, I wonder whether he recognises that there is a great danger that the House may suffer a severe bout of legislative indigestion in the coming weeks. May I refer him to a paraphrase of my favourite prayer, which goes as follows: may God grant us the patience to recognise the things that we cannot change for the better by law, the courage to change the things that we can, and the wisdom to know the difference?
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept from the reaction of Members on both sides of the House to the Home Secretary's statement and to the Chancellor's statement earlier that we have not been very good in the past at dealing in a knee-jerk fashion with emergency legislation? I am sure that he will recall the dangerous dogs legislation, the legislation that was referred to as the dangerous football yobs Bill and previous terrorist legislation.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the needI think that it was represented by Members on both sides of the House earlier when the statements were madethat we should allocate appropriate time for the scrutiny of the proposed business? Does he understand that it may result in other business having to be deferred, perhaps for a long period? Will he set in motion discussions with other parties in the House to ensure that we deal with the proposed legislation effectively and scrutinise it in full?
As for the forthcoming Bill, I fully accept his point that it is important that there should be adequate time for its scrutiny. I have said repeatedly that our maxim is that good scrutiny makes for good government. At the same time, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that our constituents beyond the House will be expecting a rapid and expeditious response from the House to ensure that we plug any gaps in our provision against terrorism. I hope that with the agreement of Members on both sides of the House we can provide time for adequate scrutiny and at the same time make decent progress. I rather like the phrase used by the shadow Home Secretary, who said that we should seek to produce good law and fast law.