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Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 19th July 2001.

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Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Lord Privy Seal 12:30 pm, 19th July 2001

First, on my hon. Friends' skills in gardening, I am repeatedly pressed in business questions to provide assurances that statements will be made while the House is sitting, not after it has risen. It is to my hon. Friends' credit that they have worked hard to ensure that their questions are answered while we are sitting.

On the ministerial code and special advisers, I am advised that the answer is yes; it will be published and be available to the House before we rise, and I shall seek to ensure that that takes place.

Mr. Kiley was appointed in the spring on the basis that he agreed that he would carry out discussions with the bidders on the public-private partnership plan and that he would try to seek agreement. That was the basis of his appointment, but three weeks ago, he said that he could not carry it out and could not deliver what he had agreed to deliver—an agreement with the contractors. It is well known that, this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions received an approach from the former chairman of London Transport and a majority of the board, saying that they thought it impossible to work with Mr. Kiley. In those circumstances, my right hon. Friend had the choice of sacking the majority of the board or sacking Mr. Kiley, and I would not like to think what the House would have done if he had sacked the majority of the board.

On GNER, it is the case that because of the very substantial infrastructure works required following the Hatfield incident, it is not presently possible to agree with the bidders a long-term franchise of 20 years. That is still the aspiration of the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, but in the meantime, to provide continuity, he has extended the present franchise by two years to 2005, but I stress that the agreement to extend it is not simply a matter of the time in that agreement; there is also provision to upgrade the London-Leeds service, so that people can travel every 30 minutes, and for early placement of orders for a new fleet of inter-city trains and early investment in station improvements. All of those will be real gains for passengers and are a welcome result of the announcement that my right hon. Friend made the other day.

Finally, the hon. Lady will have noticed that the last Bill that I mentioned in the business statement was the Homelessness Bill, to which we shall return on the Monday of the second week after our return. She will also recall that I gave an undertaking to the House that we would not programme that Bill, to find out whether we could make progress by agreement. I am pleased to say that proceedings on the Homelessness Bill have been completed in Committee in advance of the date agreed. I welcome that, and provided that we continue to get that co-operation, we will be able, on a case-by-case basis, to consider whether programming motions are required.