Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the Leader of the House, especially for his announcement about the St. David's day debate. At least he had the courtesy to announce it to the House and it was not leaked. Pennies drop at varying rates in this place.
The motion was tabled by some of the Leader of the House's hon. Friends but it is now supported by nearly 300 hon. Members. As he knows, this is the final day for replies to the consultation on his White Paper on reform of the upper House. In light of the spectacular support for that early-day motion, can he give us an early statement on the Government's intentions as to where we go from here following the disastrous White Paper? The Government are now totally adrift from opinion in the House of Commons and elsewhere.
The Leader of the House has announced that on Monday there will be an Opposition day debate on asylum. I am told that a White Paper on asylum may be imminent. Whether he can confirm that or not, will he pledge that any White Paper on asylum, or indeed on anything else, will be announced first in the House and there will be no spinning, leaking or anything else ahead of its announcement in the House and the opportunity for hon. Members to question the appropriate Secretary of State?
I gather that Lord Birt, who is, apparently, a crony of the Prime Minister and who has been asked by him to do something rather importantnamely, to look at the long-term future of our transport systemhas refused to appear before the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions. If that is true, is it not yet another example of the utter contempt in which the Prime Minister and his cronies hold the House, its Committees and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who chairs the Committee, and her colleagues? Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking now that he will use his undoubted influence and respect for the House of Commons to persuade Lord Birt to do what he should be willing to do anywayto come before the Select Committee and give an account of himself? I hope that we can get that undertaking from the Leader of the House today.
The right hon. Gentleman reminded us that this is the final day for consultation on the Government's White Paper on Lords reform. It would be a bit premature to attempt any statement when the final day has only just arrived. In any case I anticipate that people will wish to make submissions for some time afterwards, but there is no great secret. For the past month, I have said to the House, and indeed to anyone else who would listen, that when consultation finishes we will need a period of reflection in order to establish where the centre of gravity lies behind reform. When we have come to the conclusion of that period of reflection, it will be proper to have a statement in the House.
I follow the early-day motion with weekly interest to see how many hon. Members have signed it, and I have had a number of individual and collective representations from those who signed it. I listen to all views in the House. I repeat what I have said: once we have reflected on all this, it is important that those who want reform find a proposal behind which they can gather.
On asylum and immigration, it may help the right hon. Gentleman if I say that I anticipate that there may be a statement to the House next week. We have promised a Bill on asylum and immigration. I anticipate that that will be before the House this Session. We will have ample opportunity to debate those matters.
On Lord Birt, the Government stand ready to ensure that full evidence is provided by Ministers and senior civil servants. It has not been customary for special advisers to give evidence to Select Committees. I am not aware off hand of a case where an unpaid adviser was summoned to a Select Committee. If that becomes the practice, we may have some difficulty in seeking expert advice from those outside Government ranks.
On Parliament square, I clocked the point made by the right hon. Gentleman last week. We have a right to be considered in this matter. I am often frustrated by the difficulty of getting from Birdcage walk to Parliament square. I hope that we can achieve an outcome that will make things easier, and I will try to resist anything likely to make things more difficult.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): My right hon. Friend might be surprised to find that many mean-minded employers have no intention of paying their hourly paid workers for the public holiday to be held for the Queen's jubilee. Is it not time for a debate about when workers are entitled to be paid for public holidays, recognising the fact that we have fewer public holidays than almost any other country in Europe? It is always the hourly paid or the lowest-paid workers who lose the most.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Can we have an urgent debate to put into context the widespread public and press perception that it is possible, and has been possible for some time, to buy access to and influence over Parliament and Government? In view of the revelations during the past few days from Enron, Arthur Andersen and RMT and now the resignation of Lord Wakeham, which has been announced in the last few minutes, should we not try to achieve a proper sense of direction and perception on these matters? As the Leader of the House will have seen in The Independent this morning, it is important to review the funding of democracy in this country.
Will the Leader of the House ask for an urgent statement from the Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions about the apparent lack of clarity over where the £2.2 billion that the Secretary of State announced on Tuesday in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is to come from? He said that the additional money will not be taken from the
In a terse statement the Treasury denied any conversation had taken place. It also said the £2.2 billion was not new money but part of an allocation announced last April. Officials suggested the £2.2 billion would almost certainly be taken from the roads budget."
Mr. Cook: We had a long debate on political party funding during the last Session, in which we passed a significant Bill, and we can keep under review whether there is a will in the country or the House to return to the matter. There was a substantial debate only two years ago and I am not sure that there would be an appetite in the House to make it a priority. [Interruption.] I remind the shadow Leader of the House that the chief executive of Enron in Britain went on record this week saying that there had been broadly similar payments to the Conservative party as to the Labour party. The funds given to the Labour party were for the purchase of tables, and were not donations to the party.
I regard with some mystification why it is thought unusual for a Minister with responsibility for energy to meet representatives from what was, at that time, a major energy company, particularly since the outcome of those discussions was a Green Paper that curtailed rather than expanded the opportunities for Enron within the British market. It is for the hon. Gentleman to explain what BSM received in return for its major donation to the Liberal
I welcome the extra £2 billion that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions announced is available for the rail industry. The travelling public will be more interested in extra investment in rail and a response to the current crisis than in arguments about who telephoned whom over the weekend.