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Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) says that the Labour Chief Whip in the Lords is a nice man, but that is not how he came across on Sky Television last weekend, when he made some very serious allegations. Why has he not stepped aside until his name is clearedif it is going to cleared? Why is he still in his job, when Lord Warner has left the Labour party? I think that we need to know.
I genuinely regret to say this, but the Prime Minister's contempt for Parliament is becoming more and more obvious. We must not forget that, according to the House of Commons Library, the Prime Minister has a voting record of 3 per cent. That means that he bothers to turn up to this House to vote on only 3 per cent. of occasions. What the people of Sedgefield think about that I do not know as, apart from anything else, the right hon. Gentleman is supposed to represent them in the House of Commons.
However, the problem is even worse. The Prime Minister was not present for the debate on our military involvement in Afghanistan, even though the Secretary of State for Defence has said that our military personnel may be putting their lives on the line. The Prime Minister was not here to support the Secretary of State, or our young men and women in uniform. I have heard, although I can scarce believe it, that, at the material time, the Prime Minister was talking to Labour MPs about foxes. I hope that the Leader of the House can confirm or deny that.
If the Prime Minister seriously believes that foxes are more important than the lives of our young men and women in uniform, he should be ashamed of himself. He should come to the House to make an apology. I hope that the Leader of the House will urge him to do so.
Mr. Cook: It is indeed an important Bill, and we understood that the principle on which it is based was supported by the Conservative party, just as it is extensively supported throughout industry and business. I am happy to confirm that the Bill will be published next week. By my reckoning, that will allow a clear two weeks before the Second Reading debate. The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) is one of the more able and intellectual of Opposition Front-Bench Members, and I am sure that it is within his wit to prepare a 25-minute speech over the two-week period of the recess.
Mr. Cook: Apparently, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) does not have faith in the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, or believe that he can prepare a 25-minute speech in that time. It is very important that the Government respond to the strong wish in industry, commerce and business to improve the competition regulations. We must make sure that those regulations promote competition and break up cartels, and that they are more independent of political control. I totally support the Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford will be able to say the same when he returns after the recess, when he will have had plenty of leisure to consider these matters in full.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his observation that Lord Warner is a very nice man. He used another term to describe Lord Warner that is not one normally used by Labour Members, but I am happy to accept his word that he is also "a good chap"I hope that I have got the phrase right. I shall not dispute either of those points with the right hon. Gentleman, and no Labour Member would suggest that Lord Warner was not a nice man or a good chap.
However, I have been sitting here wondering what the right hon. Gentleman would have said if Lord Warner had been appointed to chair the Audit Commission. I know exactly what he would have said. He would have said, "Another of Steve's cronies gets an appointment . . . a Labour special adviser to Labour Ministers . . . it is disgraceful that such a man should have a very important position of independence." The right hon. Gentleman should spare us the humbug. He hits us over the left ear and, when we react in a different way, he tries to hit us over the right ear.
Lord Carter has issued a full statement through his lawyers fully rebutting the allegations mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. It was available to Sky Television before it went ahead with the programme. I very much regret that the current standards of journalism are such that Sky proceeded with the piece, paying no attention to the rebuttal and making no mention of the denial. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to show a greater sense of integrity and honesty than Sky by studying the rebuttal with great care.
I am happy to assure the right hon. Gentleman, as he appears worried about it, that the electors of Sedgefield have full confidence in their Member of Parliament. I would be prepared to bet, fairly confidently, that they will demonstrate that again at the next general election. As for where the Prime Minister was, I was at the meeting that he is alleged to have attended. The Prime Minister left the meeting before the discussion about foxhunting, in order to attend a meeting with the Prime Minister of Australia. I consider that to be an entirely legitimate activity for the Prime Minister of Britain, and personally I am rather glad that Britain has a Prime Minister who has the respect of other Heads of Government around the globe.
The right hon. Gentleman alluded to a general matter that has been raised in the press. I had understoodperhaps I was wrong, and perhaps Conservative Members will correct methat the Opposition had tabled their emergency motion to demonstrate their support for our action in rounding up al-Qaeda terrorists and standing shoulder to shoulder with our United States allies. We are, of course, grateful for that support. I am sorry if Opposition Members feel hurt by the fact that we did not turn up in sufficient numbers to convince them of our gratitude for their loyal support, but if they really want to show support of a bipartisan character for our action in Afghanistan and the work of our troops there, they ought to say so clearly and unequivocally, and stop scoring cheap party political points.
[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that there is a debate and substantive motion in the House before any further British forces are deployed in any military action beyond present commitments against Iraq by land, sea or air, and if necessary to recall Parliament during any recess for that purpose.]
Also, will the right hon. Gentleman again consider the need for clarity and an early statement on the Government's intentions in relation to House of Lords reform? As he will recall, on Tuesday, in answer to our questions, he himself said:
Mr. Cook: As I have said on two previous Thursdays and am happy to say on a third, no decision has been taken on Iraq, and no decision may be taken. As for a debate in the House, I think that Ministers can refer with credit and with honour to what we did in relation to the
As for reform of the House of Lords, I am tempted to say that no decision has yet been taken, although I am confident in this instance that one will be taken. I am distressed that the hon. Gentleman should imagine that the Prime Minister does not read my words and those of every other Member who speaks in the Chamber, and I do not see the gulf that the hon. Gentleman sees. There are a multitude of views on this matterindeed, we have received more than 1,000 responses to the consultationbut as the Public Administration Committee has shown, it is not impossible to find a centre of gravity among the voices in favour of reform. I hope that we will continue to search for it, and will succeed in that search.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): My right hon. Friend will know that eight weeks ago there was a breach of security at Heathrow airport and that more than £3 million was stolen. The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the Home Secretary then announced a review of security at Heathrow. Two days ago, there was another breach of security and £2 million was stolen. Will the respective Secretaries of State make statements in the House on the progress of the review? The issue is important, as money has been stolen and lives could be put at risk. We need to reassure the travelling public and restore their confidence in security at our airports.