That is not what the Deputy Prime Minister's office told me. I was informed that the right hon. Gentleman was having meetings in his office, where I imagine he is sitting at this moment. Nobody will detract from the importance of his dealing with the Hatfield crash, but it is clear that he could have spared the time to be in the House today. The debate is about a crisis that almost brought the country to its knees, yet on the first occasion on which the House has had a chance to debate that crisis, the Deputy Prime Minister shows disdain for Parliament and the British people. What is the point of having a Secretary of State who will not appear for a debate on his own handling of a national crisis that almost brought the country to its knees? The Deputy Prime Minister has been leading the Government's anti-car campaign. Only yesterday, he said:
I am constantly available to discuss such matters either in statements or other debates…There are many matters that I am prepared to debate, and I commonly come to the House.—[Official Report, 24 October 2000; Vol. 355, c. 150.]
That apparently does not apply in a time of national crisis.
Why is the Deputy Prime Minister not here? The truth is that he probably wanted to be here, but he has been told not to be here. He has become the most ridiculous figure in the Government. His attitude is so cynical that he sends his baggage by chauffeured Jaguar to the House of Commons while he takes the train to appear environmentally friendly. His contempt for Parliament is also contempt for farmers, hauliers, pensioners and those who live in the countryside—contempt for the people whom we are elected to represent. They will see that his place is empty today, and they will know that he has learned nothing from the crisis.