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Mr. Cook: That is possibly going a little far, but he is a genuine parliamentarian. I have frequently said to the House that, if we want to establish public respect for the House and to get people to participate in elections to the House, we must demonstrate that we are less concerned with party political point scoring than with the real issues in people's lives. I do not think that the last hour will have gone any way to convincing the public of that. I heard absolutely nothing new. If I may say so, I believe that I could have written the speech by the Opposition spokesman on transport matters in five minutes over breakfast. Indeed, I rather suspect that I should have made a better job of it.
'Ministers must also comply at all times with the requirements which Parliament has itself laid on them as Members, including in particular the codes of conduct for their respective Houses.'
I believe this explicit requirement will reinforce the status of the Members' Code of Conduct, and underline the Government's commitment to its observance."
Mr. Cook: I think that the hon. Gentleman's response to my announcement on Tuesday is a trifle churlish and below his high standards of generosity, as it was he who originally raised the matter at business questions. I had hoped that my response would bring at least half a welcome from the hon. Gentleman, for doing what he had asked of me.
The hon. Gentleman has raised the question of the ministerial code a number of times. I am sure that hon. Members will find opportunities to do so. The hon. Gentleman was right to point to where the opportunity lies in respect of the censure of a member of the Government. In past years, when I was a member of the shadow Cabinet, I spent many happy hours discussing which member of the Conservative Cabinet we would censure that week. The appropriate place for such a debate is in Opposition Supply day time. The hon. Gentleman has the distinction of being the last person to move such a motion in the House, when he moved for the censure of the Minister with responsibility for agriculture in the then Conservative Government. We found opportunities to criticise him on many occasions. However, I commend the hon. Gentleman on his speech on that occasion; it was about substance, policy and issues that affected constituents, not the flim-flam that we have been forced to listen to for the past hour and which, I am bound to say, would be an egregious waste of the House's time if we had to return to it again.
Finally, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned my openness to the Wicks committee, may I take the opportunity of repeating what, for me, was the central point of my observation to the committee? It is worth repeating since, characteristically, very few press reports picked it up the next day. Over the past six years, barely half of 1 per cent. of Members of the House of Commons have been censured for misconduct or misregistration. We were right to censure those Members for failing to meet our high
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Is my right hon. Friend aware that one way in which the House of Commons can reconnect with the public is to address the questions that concern them very deeply? I refer in particular to the London underground. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the contracts were signed yesterday for a public-private partnership which in my view is seriously flawed.
The real problem is that the Government have said that because we discussed this matter two years ago, we no longer need to discuss it. May I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider that very urgently? It is no use the House of Commons lecturing others on the need for openness if we will not debate matters of importance on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Cook: My recollection of the past two years is rather different from that of my hon. Friend. I recollect our having exchanges on this matter several times. Indeed, it is only three months since there was a full statement to the House, at the time when the contracts were being let. The signing of the contracts is a natural and inevitable consequence of that statement. However, I am sure that the House will find ways of ventilating the issue and raising it again. For myself, I think that no local government contract in modern history has been more ventilated in the House of Commons.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Can the Leader of House organise an early debate on compensation arrangements for civil servants? The normal maximum that an ordinary mortal can receive from an industrial tribunal for unfair dismissal is £50,000, yet we now find out that £200,000 was paid to Mr. Martin Sixsmith. Surely that needs explanation. We, as the custodians of the public purse, should have a chance to probe the Executive on whether the difference between £50,000 and £200,000 was the price of Mr. Sixsmith's silence.
Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions dealt with this question perfectly adequately only half an hour ago. The settlement is within the terms of Mr. Sixsmith's terms and conditions. It was carried out by lawyers on both sides, without ministerial intervention.
Mr. Mike O'Brien (North Warwickshire): Can we have an early debate on motorway compensation so that I can raise the concerns of my constituents who live along the construction route of the M6 toll road and have found that compensation is to be delayed until 2005 or thereabouts? In the meantime, their houses are blighted and there is no compensation available for the disturbance. These issues need to be debated.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): May I express my surprise to the Leader of the House that he should have chosen, on this of all days, to impugn the reliability of Mr. Sixsmith when we have heard this morning that Mr. Sixsmith was telling the truth when he said that he had not resigned and that the Secretary of State was not doing so when he said that he had? May we have a debate in Government time on the use and abuse of privilege in the House? In that way, right hon. and hon. Members will have an opportunity to see what recompense there is for peoplewhether they be sacked spin doctors or permanent secretaries of Departments who get landed with the blamewhen they are impugned under the protection of parliamentary privilege by Secretaries of State who ought to shoulder the responsibility themselves and resign because of misconduct, misdemeanours and misinformation from their Department?
Mr. Cook: I have a little difficulty unravelling from the hon. Gentleman's periphrasis exactly who he is talking about. If he is referring to the permanent secretary at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and looks at the permanent secretary's statement of 25 February, he will see that the permanent secretary uses precisely the same language as was subsequently used by the Secretary of State to the House. As the Secretary of State has said to the House, if we impugn his statement to the House we also, logically, impugn the statement of the permanent secretary. In that case, the hon. Gentleman will then have to accept that he is also attacking the permanent secretary.
Finally, on whether I impugned Mr. Sixsmith, I answered the question that I was asked. I pointed out that the reason why I had to retract my statement on that occasion was that I had acted on the advice of Mr. Sixsmith.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): May we have a further opportunity early next week to discuss the situation in the middle east? Many questions need to be answered: why was a United Kingdom-sponsored resolution to have a commission of inquiry into Jenin thwarted at the United Nations? What went wrong at the UN Security Council? Secondly, and most importantly, what will happen if there is a further Israeli military attack on Gaza? What will the world do if that takes place, and what role will the United Kingdom play to try and bring about a peace in that area?