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Business of the House

12.32 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 14 January—Second Reading of the Office of Communications Bill [Lords].

Motion to approve a money resolution on the Home Energy Conservation Bill.

Tuesday 15 January—Remaining stages of the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill.

Wednesday 16 January—Opposition Day [7th Allotted Day]. Until Seven o'clock there will be a debate entitled "State of the Railways" followed by a debate entitled "The Crisis in the Care System". Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

Thursday 17 January—A debate on Bristol Royal infirmary on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 18 January—Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 21 January—Second Reading of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Tuesday 22 January—Opposition Day [8th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 23 January—Remaining stages of the International Development Bill [Lords].

Thursday 24 January—Motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Friday 25 January—Private Members' Bills.

I should like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on Thursday 17 January will now be a debate on victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system.

I should also like to inform the House that, on Wednesday 16 January 2002, there will a debate on the sixth environmental action programme in European Standing Committee A. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

Following are the documents:

Reports Session 1999–2000

Report No:TitleHC No.Publication DateGovt Reply
38Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food: The Sheep Annual Premium Scheme in England 36224 November 2000Cm 5021
39HM Customs and Excise: Revenue from Gambling Duties4238 November 2000Cm 5021
40National Savings: Public-Private Partnership with Siemens Business Services 56615 November 2000Cm 5021
41The Gaming Board: Better Regulation61116 November 2000Cm 5021
42The Management and Control of Hospital Acquired Infection in Acute NHS Trusts in England30623 November 2000Cm 5021
43Hip Replacements: Getting it Right First Time51313 December 2000Cm 5071
44Ministry of Defence: Accepting Equipment Off-Contract and into Service31930November 2000Cm 5078
45Ministry of Defence: Acceptance of the Chinook Mk 2 Helicopter97530 November 2000Cm 5078
46Ministry of Defence: Kosovo—The Financial Management of Military Operations58221December 2000Cm 5071
47The National Health Service Executive—Valedictory Hearing: Sir Alan Langlands62419December 2000Cm 5071

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Reports Session 2000–01

Report No:TitleHC No.Publication DateGovt Reply
1Inpatient Administration, Bed Management and Patient Discharge in NHS Acute Hospitals13525 January 2001Cm 5127
2Public Trust Office: Unclaimed Balances Held in Funds in Court and the Office's 1998–99 Accounts14231January 2001Cm 5127
3Emergency Aid: The Kosovo Crisis14314 January 2001Cm 5127
4Grants made by the National Lottery Charities Board16816February 2001Cm 5127
5The Draft Social Security (Inherited SERPS) Regulations 200124318February 2001Cm 5127
6Review of Audit and Accountability for Central Government2602 March 2001Cm 5201
7Excess Votes 1999–2000: Class X, Votes 2 and 32849March 2001N/A
8Maintaining the Royal Palaces7714March 2001Cm 5201
9Managing Finances in English Further Education Colleges28321March 2001Cm 5201
10Parole34929 March 2001Cm 5201
11The Housing Corporation: Overseeing Focus Housing Association3652 May 2001Cm 5261
12English Heritage: Access to Properties2653May 2001Cm 5201
13The Refinancing of Fazakerley PFI Prison Contract3725July 2001Cm 5261
14Ministry of Defence: Managing Reductions in the Number of Vacant Family Quarters3915July 2001Cm 5261
15Strategic Rail Authority: Action to Improve Passenger Rail Services39218July 2001Cm 5261
16The National Blood Service20711July 2001Cm 5261

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[Wednesday 16 January 2002:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Union Document: 5771/01, Sixth Environmental Action Programme of the European Community. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 28-xi (2000-01); HC 152-i and HC 152-ii (2001-02).]

Mr. Forth: In thanking the Leader, may I take this opportunity, if it is not too late, to wish him a happy new year?

May we have an urgent statement on a very serious allegation that has been raised today—what I would have to call the "cash for no question" issue? It would appear—I can scarcely believe this—that the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) had a question down to the Prime Minister, but that the powers-that-be in the Government persuaded him to withdraw his question—which was going to be about the inadequacy of funding for a hospital in his constituency—with the promise of £200,000 additional funding for the hospital.

We are used to allegations about cash for questions, but the amount seems excessive, and to be an example of regrettable parliamentary inflation. Apparently, the going rate for the withdrawal by a Government Back Bencher of a question—presumably to avoid embarrassment to the Prime Minister—is £200,000. I hope that the Leader of the House will assure us that an urgent statement on this serious matter will be made—if not today, then tomorrow—because we need to get to the bottom of it and to be assured that the allegation is untrue. If it is true, we need to be told how the tactic can be justified.

I hope that the Leader of the House will also make provision for the Deputy Prime Minister to come to the House and explain his response to the unusually truthful statements from the Minister for Europe. Today's press report that Minister as saying:

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I quote from The Sun, which the House knows has a direct line to No. 10, so we can rely on what it says. It states:

and we all know who that is—

These are serious matters, because not only is a Minister of State admitting finally that the railways have been put into a disgraceful condition by the Government—which we have known for some time—but a Government source is seeking to undermine the Deputy Prime Minister. I ask, therefore, for a statement, either from the Deputy Prime Minister or from the Minister for Europe. Otherwise, I hope that the Leader of the House will arrange for a statement to be made by the Prime Minister, as it is obviously his man who has given this information to The Sun.

Mr. Cook: First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his good wishes for the new year. I am very happy to accept them, however late they may come in the course of the parliamentary Session. I shall observe only that it is plain that the Christmas and new year recess has in no way softened his approach to these exchanges, but I would have been surprised and disappointed if it had.

I have no insight into why my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) may not have asked his question. That is entirely a matter for him to decide. However, I am taken aback that the right hon. Gentleman should complain about a case in which an hon. Member, finding that an issue that he has raised has been satisfactorily resolved, decides not to continue to press that issue in the House. I should have thought that resolving the problems of our constituents was what Parliament was for. If this constituency matter has been resolved, I can only commend the speed with which that has been achieved.

I turn now to the railways. The right hon. Gentleman may not have been present in the House when we debated transport matters in the 1970s and 1980s. Had he been present, he would have heard a number of speeches—by me, and by the Deputy Chief Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill)—making the point that investment in Britain's railways was among the lowest in Europe, and that that had caused a relative decline in the quality of our railways. That is why this Government have set about increasing investment in the railways.

I remind hon. Members of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday. He told the House that, in the previous Parliament, this Government increased by half as much again the annual investment in the railways inherited from the previous Conservative Government. In this Parliament, we shall double that amount. Every year of this Parliament, this Government will be investing three times as much as the average for the last years in office of the previous Conservative Government.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe drew attention to what has been a matter for discussion in the Labour party and in the press—that, for the first two years of this Labour Government, we followed the investment

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and spending plans inherited from our Conservative predecessors. I am perfectly willing to listen to my colleagues and friends in Government ask whether, in retrospect, we should necessarily have shown such patience. I am not willing to listen to lectures from the Conservative party, which left us those spending plans and an inheritance for the railway industry that will take a decade to put right.

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