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Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Does my hon. Friend think that the worry of No. 10 is not just the botched news handling, but the fact that the Government announced in the pre-Budget statement £1 billion extra for health, and said nothing about the £2 billion-plus extra that they will have to provide for the railways, because they have made such a mess of it? Did not the Secretary of State overshadow the pre-Budget statement by raiding the till, as well as by his botched news handling?

Mr. Collins: I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. The escalating costs of the Government's decision on the matter are not the least reason for our grave concerns about them.

The Secretary of State has one group of wholly loyal, absolutely staunch and unequivocal friends in the House. I refer, of course, to the party which is, in every sense,

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to our left—the Liberal Democrats. Many of us were highly amused—no doubt you were, too, Mr. Speaker—to read at the weekend that the Liberal Democrats were to call for the departure of Ms Jo Moore over the matters set out in the motion. Having read about that, I looked up the parliamentary record. What did the Liberal Democrats do when we last debated in the House a motion calling for the dismissal of Ms Moore, on 23 October? Very heroically, they abstained. What did they do when the House debated on 13 November a motion deploring the Secretary of State's conduct? They rode to his rescue and voted with the Government to save his neck. What did they do when the House of Lords last week inflicted the first defeat of this Parliament on the Government's Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill? They voted differently in the other place—they did not vote in the same way in this place—again in order to try to save the Government's neck, but they failed. What are they doing today? What does their proposed amendment to today's motion seek to do? It would accept the first 60 per cent. of the Conservative motion without alteration, but delete all references to the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and all criticism of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Collins: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. I am sure that he is as affectionate towards the Liberal Democrats as I am, but I should like to finish my point.

The Liberal Democrats call themselves the effective Opposition. In our crueller moments, we might wonder when their leader will get 45 minutes with the President of the United States. Perhaps we should not hold our breath in that connection, but we notice that if a party wants to be an effective Opposition it helps if it opposes the Government. I shall give way on that note.

Mr. Kilfoyle: I do not want to intrude on a personal battle between the Opposition parties about which of them is pre-eminent.

The hon. Gentleman has made much of what he sees as some sort of grand conspiracy in the Government, in which people are being told to be less than truthful on occasions. Will he remind me of the circumstances surrounding a previous Government with regard to the Peter Wright "Spycatcher" case? The then Government's representative was, by his own admission, economical with the truth. Was he economical with the truth at the order of No. 10, by his own volition or at the instigation of special advisers who were working in the Government at the time?

Mr. Collins: The person to whom the hon. Gentleman refers was, of course, a career civil servant, so I do not think he is making the point that he thinks he is making.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as he has just pointed out to the House very effectively the record of the Liberal party on this matter. Bearing in mind its votes in the past, can he explain why the leader of that party said last week on radio that both the Secretary of State and Ms Jo Moore should resign or be sacked?

Mr. Collins: Like my hon. Friend, I am somewhat puzzled. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats will change their

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attitude and vote with the official Opposition tonight. Given the nature of the amendment that they have tabled, however, I rather doubt that they will do so.

The final point that I want to make in response to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) is that I do not accuse the Government of running a grand conspiracy, as I think he called it. Our charge is that they are not capable of making the trains run on time, let alone of running a grand conspiracy. They are utterly hopeless at everything.

This is a Secretary of State who has twisted and evaded, and rewritten the truth and hidden the facts time and again. He is someone who has moved at a snail's pace to answer questions, improve transport and raise safety standards on the railways. As long as the Prime Minister ignores all considerations of honesty and honour and keeps this man in office, this Secretary of State will, like a snail, produce a trail of slime leading across Downing street and right up to the door of No. 10.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should withdraw that remark.

Mr. Collins: Naturally, I withdraw it, Mr. Speaker.

In their conduct of parliamentary business, their approach to parliamentary questions, their honesty and candour towards their public and their determination to hang on to Jo Moore, this Administration in general and this Secretary of State in particular have been condemned by the civil service unions, the City, Select Committees and their own Back Benchers; and tonight, they should be condemned by the whole House of Commons, so that at the next election they will be condemned and booted out by the people.

Mr. Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister, and I now call the Minister of State, Cabinet Office to move it.

4.9 pm

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

That was a fascinating beginning. I had not expected to hear an edition of "What the Papers Say" so early. However, the Government welcome the opportunity to debate the important issue of accountability. It is sad that the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) disregarded the title of the motion.

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When I saw the title, I wondered why the subject had been chosen. Again, the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) gave the game away. He said in an interview in last week's New Statesman:

That sums up Conservative Members' approach this afternoon. They will repeat it time and again. That is why they altered the subject of the debate, which was raised in points of order with you, Mr. Speaker.

The motion deals with accountability, which is vital in our parliamentary democracy. [Interruption.] The shadow Leader of the House mocks, but I believe that parliamentary democracy is important. [Interruption.] Am I the only one who believes in it? I am surprised at that attitude. I have known the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) for a long time. We were at university together and I remember his record there.

The line of parliamentary accountability runs from Members of Parliament to the Government. Ministers are accountable to Parliament for their decisions and actions; Parliament ensures that we are accountable to the British people. The ministerial code includes a clear statement by the Prime Minister of his strong personal commitment to the bond of trust between the British people and their Government. [Interruption.] Again, Conservative Members laugh. The ministerial code is vital and I shall show what we mean by accountability.

The Prime Minister stated in the code that we must be clear about the way in which Ministers should account and be held accountable to Parliament and the public. The code sets out those responsibilities clearly and builds on a resolution on Ministers' responsibilities that the House passed in 1997. I am surprised that Opposition Members have ignored it and believed it to be unimportant.

The Government's record on statements compares favourably with that of our Conservative predecessors. One hundred and five statements were made in 1997–98, compared with 98 in the post-election Session in 1987–88. On average, the Government made a statement almost every other day in the 1998-99 Session. We will take no lessons from the Opposition on Ministers accountability to Parliament.

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