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Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): It would be helpful if we had a debate early next week on how the Government's proposals on the House of Lords have been contrived. We are entitled to know which of the 243 Labour peers appointed by the Prime Minister were involved in that process. After all, they have a direct interest in ensuring an unelected House. Is it not absolutely intolerable that the two leading Ministers in the formulation of policy appear to be the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House of Lordsneither of whom have in any way condescended to stand for election to public office? Is not that shameful, even by the standards of Ceausescu's Romania?
Mr. Cook: It would be an extraordinary proposition that the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House of Lords should not be involved in the preparation of the document[Interruption.] I do find that a preposterous suggestion. I am not entirely surprised that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) regards it as common sense, but to everyone else it appears preposterous. I would not want to take any credit for the White Paper from the Lord Chancellor.
This is the second time this week andI have lost count, but something likethe seventh time in this Parliament that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) has offered a proposition that is flatly in conflict with his conduct during the 18 years of the Conservative Government, for whom he was a Minister. I have no problem with him saying that he had got it wrong, wished that he had done something different, had changed his mind and had recognised his mistakes, but I rather wish that he would stop expressing his views as though he were right all along and that all the previous Government's mistakes were as a result of decisions taken by others while he was out at the loo.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I welcome my right hon. Friend's promise of a debate on the House of Lords, but given that many Labour Members were still standing following 25 questions on his statement yesterday, as we had to move to other pressing business, should we not have that debate at an early date, before consultation ends? Some of us feel that although it is right to get rid of the privileges of birth, those privileges should not be replaced by the privileges of position and connections. If there were such an early debate, some of us would have the opportunity to show that the argument that the position of the House of Lords in comparison with the Commons would be enhanced by democratic elections is spurious, because no powers can be passed to the Lords unless this House agrees to do so.
Mr. Cook: I do not think that my hon. Friend would find it quite so easy to stand pat on that view if the second Chamber were claiming as good a democratic legitimacy as this Chamber. That is not the nature of the real political world. Of course the debate must be timely. Two weeks
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): With the loss of the right hon. Gentleman's former hon. Friend as First Minister of Scotland this morning, and the possible emergence of a job opportunity for him, will he find time for a debate on the remit of the Secretary of State for Scotland's consultation on numbers of Members of the Scottish Parliament, so that we do not lose any more?
Mr. Cook: The issue of numbers of MSPs and, indeed, of Scottish Members of Parliament in this place has been aired on a number of occasions, not just in business questions but at other times in the Houseand no doubt will continue to be so aired. Of course, we debated the matter when we passed the Scotland Act 1998, committing ourselves to a reduction in the number of Scottish Members of this Parliament. With that inevitably comes a reduction in the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament. I remind the hon. Gentleman that his party did not object to those provisions in the Scotland Act.
The former First Minister will be making a statement in an hour's time, and he should be allowed to speak in his own words. All I would say is that Henry McLeish was my friend this morning, and he will be my friend this afternoon.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the crisis in the Children's Society in Wales, which announced earlier this week that it was pulling out of Wales, closing all its projects and making all its staff redundant? Will he draw that matter to the attention of his ministerial colleagues and ask them to use any influence that they might have on the Children's Society nationally in order that it reconsiders its decision to withdraw from Wales?
Mr. Cook: I understand entirely the concern that the decision must be causing to my hon. Friend's constituents. I shall certainly draw her comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): I remind the Leader of the House of Her Majesty's Government's pledge to hold regular debates on London matters, notwithstanding the passage of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Is not it imperative that we have such an early debate so that we can discuss the future, if there is one, of the public-private partnership for London Underground, the implementation of which is four and a half years late? That cannot all be blamed on the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, notwithstanding his totally incredible statements on Railtrack.
Mr. Cook: I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for saying that such matters cannot all be blamed on my right hon. Friend. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the PPP has been so long delayed because of difficulty in reaching agreement with Mr. Kiley and the Mayor of London.
John Cryer (Hornchurch): In response to three questions from Labour Members, my right hon. Friend has said that the plans for the House of Lords are out to consultation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said yesterday, the most recent Labour party conference voted for a largely elected upper House by something like 3 million votes to a few hundred thousand. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a pretty decisive contribution to consultation?
Mr. Cook: As I recall the entertaining intervention yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), he referred us to the 1976 decision, in which a similar majority voted to abolish the second Chamber in its entirety. So, we have a rich tapestry of guidance from which to draw. I shall obviously listen with great respect to responses from the Labour party and other parties in the next three months.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Has the Leader of the House had the chance to study the evidence given to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee yesterday, in which the Rail Regulator gave a very detailed and well documented account of his meetings with the Secretary of State and Railtrack's chairman and chief executive? Although I welcome the Opposition day debate next week on the mishandling of Railtrack, would not it have been better for the Secretary of State to have come to the Dispatch Box to explain in Government time why their two accounts are so wildly different?
Mr. Cook: That is a question that also falls to the Rail Regulator to explain. On reading his evidence, I was much impressed that the Rail Regulator also blasted Railtrack, stating that it was remarkable that it had kept so much information from him. There is a lot to be explored in the evidence, much of which will take us back to the previous Government, who designed Railtrack in the first place.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): May we have a statement from the Minister for the Cabinet Office about the deplorable decision to mount a leak inquiry inside the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to find out who leaked the dreadful e-mail from Jo Moore about it being a good day on 11 September to bury bad news? Is it not quite astonishing that the person who leaked the e-mail might lose his or her job while the person who wrote it retains hers? I would have asked for a statement from the Minister with responsibility for freedom of information, but I think that that post may
Mr. Cook: As I recall, the statement about the investigation was made by the Cabinet Secretary and not by any Minister at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. The hon. Gentleman is a man of great talent, integrity and experience. I do think that the time has come for him to move on to another subject.