Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:17 pm on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal 12:17 pm, 29th March 2007

When the hon. Gentleman asked about today's announcement on splitting the Home Office, he included the words,

"Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of the case".

That is classic Lib Demory. They have two views, one in favour and one against, and they cannot make up their mind which, so they leave aside the merits. I take seriously some of the points raised by the Opposition because they have a view about the merits of the case, but, although I listened with great care to what the shadow, shadow Lib Dem home affairs spokesman had to say, I was none the wiser at the end of it, nor was I any better informed of the Lib Dem's position. The matter has been the subject of detailed consideration and of a detailed written ministerial statement. Although there may be a debate about whether some time in future such matters should be handled differently, the truth is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister handled it more openly today than was ever the case in the past. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, in 18 years of Labour Opposition there were repeated examples of changes to machinery of government without any announcement to the House.

I am always very happy, if time allows, to have a debate inside or outside the Chamber on ethical leadership. However, it does not do the reputation of politics any good for the hon. Gentleman week after week to come to the House and in one way or another try to denigrate the standards of public life. I accept that there are falls from grace, but our standards are higher and better than in almost every other country in the world, and that is shown from independent monitoring. If any of my former Cabinet colleagues are taking business appointments, they will be doing so only in circumstances where they have been vetted and approved by the Appointments Commission.

We all accept that rural housing is a serious matter. I happened to listen to a radio programme the other day about ways in which planning controls are being used more effectively now to ensure a parallel market for local people. That is an important issue and I shall certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman's comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

I made myself expert on the train services to and from Milton Keynes only because I had to, not because of any affection for that timetable. We recognise that there are problems with train services as a result of overcrowding. The timetable changes introduced by First Great Western, a private company, and its failure to ensure sufficient rolling stock inconvenienced a great many Members of this House, including Mrs. May and me. Spending on track support has increased by 55 per cent. in the last 10 years, rail passenger journeys are up by 35 per cent. and, to combat overcrowding, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport recently announced that an extra 1,000 rail carriages are to be purchased.