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Mrs. Ellman rose

Mr. Collins: I am not going to give way to the hon. Lady again. Perhaps she should go off and use the west coast main line; she could go up to her constituency, where she might be in a better position.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Those of us who are desperately trying to come to terms with the organisation of the House are rather confused by the way the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) is moving away from the subject. Could you advise the House, Mr. Speaker, whether the subject being debated is the west coast main line or the dissemination of information?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) is in order; if he were out of order, I would have informed him.

Mr. Collins: I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. The motion, for Government Members who seem to need the benefit

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of the Government's literacy hour, refers to the conduct of the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

We have serious concerns about the lack of clarity on rail safety provisions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) has been extremely successful in setting out a problematic lack of clarity about who is responsible for rail safety matters; again, that is a failure by the Secretary of State.

Norman Baker (Lewes): Whatever the Government's failings in dealing with the rail crisis, is not the root cause the botched privatisation by the Conservative party?

Mr. Collins: It is always a pleasure to hear from people who declare themselves to be the effective Opposition. On this subject, they invariably come to the defence of the Government; the hon. Gentleman has done it again. For the record, there were only two years in the 20th century in which nobody died on Britain's railways. Both occurred when Britain's railways were run by the private sector; one was before the first world war, the other was 1998. Although the railway safety record was certainly not good enough in the Railtrack years, it was a great deal better than it was in the state socialist era to which the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) and his colleagues would like to return us. However, I am delighted that he intervened because—

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is misleading the House. There has not been a year without a death on the railways.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale would not mislead the House. The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) should withdraw his remark.

Mr. Hoyle: The hon. Gentleman made a statement that was not factual, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale might say that he is not deliberately misleading the House. Is that what the hon. Member for Chorley is suggesting?

Mr. Hoyle: I am indeed. I take that advice, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should withdraw his earlier remark.

Mr. Hoyle: I withdraw. The hon. Gentleman may not have deliberately misled the House, but the statement was inaccurate.

Mr. Speaker: Withdraw the remark; that is the best thing.

Mr. Hoyle: It is still not factual.

Mr. Speaker: Facts are something that I have no control over.

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The title of the motion is about information, and we should not concentrate our remarks solely on Railtrack, as seems to be happening.

Mr. Collins: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The next part of my speech relates precisely to the Government's failure properly to report to the House and provide it with information on its proceedings. Indeed, there have been increasing delays in responses to parliamentary correspondence and parliamentary questions, as was established by the diligent research of my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns).

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is tremendously important for the House to understand that there has been a consistent pattern of behaviour by the Department and the Secretary of State? They say one thing then, a few weeks later, admit that something different is true—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have given as strong a hint as possible to the hon. Gentleman, who should move on from that subject.

Mr. Collins: Not only did my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford make progress in establishing those delays, but there was devastating and, indeed, unprecedented criticism of Ministers by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration following investigations instigated by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who managed to establish that the Government were withholding information from the House without any justification under the procedures or codes which should apply. My hon. Friend rightly pointed out that there is no precedent for the parliamentary ombudsman to be as critical as he was of the present Foreign Secretary, the former Home Secretary, for the Government's point-blank refusal to release information in the way set out under their own ministerial codes, as well as under the motions passed by the House.

Yet again, Mr. Speaker, as you will have noted over the weekend, there was a further repetition of the constant pattern under the present Administration of serious announcements being made outside the House, rather than in the Chamber. In an interview in The Observer, the Home Secretary pretty much published the entire contents of his proposed White Paper on the police, some days before he is due to bring the matter before the House.

The Government's dissemination of information has been hugely criticised by senior and entirely independent figures. I know that Labour Members are unlikely to be interested in the views of the chairman of Railtrack, but they might be interested to know that Jonathan Baume, the general secretary of the First Division Association of civil servants—a trade union; I can already see ears pricking up with excitement on the Government Benches—has called on Jo Moore, the well-known special adviser and side-kick of the Secretary of State to

It is our contention that problems will continue to occur constantly with the running of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions until Ms Moore and the Secretary of State have stood aside.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow) rose

Mr. Collins: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. Before that, I shall give him an opportunity to

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reflect on what he intended to say. The strategic communications unit at No. 10, and a chap called Alastair Campbell, whom the hon. Gentleman may know is a little bit influential in his party, reprimanded the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions for "contaminating"—that was the word—the pre-Budget statement by the way in which the Department reported the minutes of the famous meeting with the chairman of Railtrack. I look forward to the intervention from the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell). Will he come in on the side of the Secretary of State or of Mr. Campbell?

Mr. Rammell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Did he read the letter in The Guardian on 10 October from a former Government press officer who related his experience under the last Conservative Government at the time of the Dunblane tragedy? He was instructed to release any bad news that day, as it would be buried in the following day's news coverage of events. Does not that demonstrate that instead of a serious concern for the conduct of government, we are hearing nothing but a hypocritical rant from the Opposition?

Mr. Collins: The hon. Gentleman may be relieved to know that it was indeed one of the rare occasions when I read The Guardian letters page. He will recall that the person involved was an anonymous figure. In the two months that have passed since then, and despite frequent inquiries, we have never established even which Department that person allegedly worked in, let alone the substance behind the serious allegations that he made. We wait to hear what will happen.

We know that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, whose conduct is rightly the subject of criticism in the motion, is in some difficulty. The headline in The Independent today states: "Blair 'growing worried' by Byers' performance". The Prime Minister has nothing to worry about with respect to the Secretary of State's performance in the House today, as he is not delivering a performance in the House today. We learn that Minister after Minister, official after official, Labour Back Bencher after Labour Back Bencher wants Ms Moore to go, wants the Secretary of State to accept that he is responsible for her conduct, and is deeply unhappy about the way his Department has provided information to the House and to the public.

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