HC Deb 22 November 1990 vol 181 cc433-8

4.1 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the business for next week.

MONDAY 26 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Statutory Sick Pay Bill.

Motion on the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 (Amendment) Order 1990.

TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill.

Motion on the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987 (Continuation) Order 1990.

WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER—Until about seven o'clock Committee and remaining stages of the Statutory Sick Pay Bill.

Second Reading of the Development Board for Rural Wales Bill.

Motion to take note of EC document relating to authorised tobacco advertising. Details will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 29 NOVEMBER—Committee and remaining stages of the Development Board for Rural Wales Bill.

Proceedings on the Import and Export Control Bill.

Motion to take note of EC document relating to controls on the acquisition and possession of weapons. Details will be given in the Official Report.

FRIDAY 30 NOVEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 3 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Community Charges (Substitute Setting) Bill, followed by proceedings on the Caravans (Standard Community Charge and Rating) Bill.

[Wednesday 28 November

Relevant European Community Document:

6071/90 Advertising of tobacco products

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee: HC 11–xxxiii (1989–90) and HC 29–ii (1990–91).

Thursday 29 November

Relevant European Community Documents:

(a) 10074/89 Control of Acquisition and possession of weapons
(b) 8836/90 Control of Acquisition and possession of weapons.

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee:

  1. (a) HC 11-vii (1989–90)
  2. (b) HC 29-ii (1990–91).]

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

What purpose can be served by pursuing the programme of a Prime Minister who has just been forced from office? What value is there in asking the House of Commons to deal with the business of a Government who are in total disarray? Is not it obvious from the events of this week that even Members on the Government Benches have no confidence in the programme of a Prime Minister whom they have signally failed to support? Why should the House be burdened next week with legislation that is irrelevant to an economy once again sliding dangerously into recession? Is not it a fact that, as Britain needs a new agenda for the 1990s from a new Labour Government, the case for the dissolution of Parliament and a general election is now overwhelming?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman has wasted his opportunity to ask questions about business. The vote tonight at the end of the debate will give him the clear answer to his questions. We shall then get on with the important legislation that we are taking through the House, next week and beyond.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the way in which the national health service reforms are being implemented in their first year is making even worse the burden that the London teaching hospitals are placing on health authorities outside London? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Health whether we can have an early debate on this important matter? It is high time that London's over-hospitalling ceased to lay an unfair burden on health authorities in the rest of the country.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend, but my hon. Friend knows that there are other opportunities to raise that matter in the House. I cannot see any opportunity next week.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

The Leader of the House may not be aware of a report of what is believed to be the tragic loss of a fishing vessel from Carradale in my constituency at about 2.15 this morning, involving a submerged submarine. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Defence to come to the House tonight to make a statement about this appalling tragedy?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that the whole House will be sorry to hear that sad news. I shall draw that point to my right hon. Friend's attention, but, in view of today's debate, I am not sure whether it will be possible for him to make a statement. Nevertheless, I shall see whether something can be done.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations to him, to his predecessor and to his predecessor but one who, between them, have at long last achieved a result so that our constituents can go round the Line of Route without having to queue in the rain? At long last, facilities are in place in the House of Lords, under the Norman Tower so that our constituents can queue in the dry. I thank my right hon. Friend for that.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and shall certainly convey his thanks to my predecessors. In all honesty, I do not think that I played a very big part in it.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the closure of hospital wards has now become the equivalent of a national epidemic? We have the bizarre spectacle of hospital waiting lists rising, while hospital wards are closing. May we have a debate on this next week so that the three candidates for the Tory leadership are made aware of the chaotic consequences of present Conservative policies?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that there is an opportunity for a debate on that point next week. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there has been a massive increase in health service funds under the Government, not least in the current autumn statement, and that in-patient waiting lists are now 50 per cent. lower than 10 years ago. The waiting list fund is making a big contribution to reducing waiting lists.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a motion of no confidence in the Labour council in Hackney was debated yesterday? Is there a chance of an early debate on government in London so that we can discuss maladministration by Labour councils, and especially the number of empty council houses and the millions of pounds of unpaid rent?

Mr. MacGregor

I should be very happy to find an opportunity to debate these matters and to put the spotlight on that sort of performance. However, in view of what looks like a fairly busy programme before Christmas, I do not think that there will be an opportunity for such a debate in Government time before Christmas.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

Bearing in mind the lobby of children and young people on Monday in defence of the UN convention on the rights of the child, the various local authority activities taking place this week to celebrate that event, and the fact that 57 countries have now ratified that convention, when does the Leader of the House intend to bring the convention to the House to be ratified? Why are we dragging our heels?

Mr. MacGregor

I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a statement about that recently. I shall certainly check that point and perhaps write to the hon. Lady about it, as well as considering the point that she has made.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the time to get on with today's business so that we can have a resounding vote of confidence in Her Majesty's Government and, in due course, a resounding vote of confidence from the British people? The Labour party could not produce three candidates as good as we have produced to lead our party.

Mr. MacGregor

I very much agree with my hon. Friend's point about the vote of confidence in Her Majesty's Government. I have no doubt that as soon as we get to the debate the position of Conservative Members and of the vote tonight will be made very clear.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week by the Secretary of State for Social Security on the urgent need to uprate the grant from the DSS to residential homes for the elderly? Is he aware that York house, Plaistow will have to close next month because of the Government's policies? Does he recognise that rolling back the frontiers of the state can sometimes roll back the moral obligations of society which some politicians believe do not exist?

Mr. MacGregor

I think that my right hon. Friend has recently made an announcement about these matters. There has been an increase. The amount of taxpayers' money going into support for the elderly, particularly in respect of residential homes, has increased substantially in recent years.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread support that Labour Members give to the qualities of the French education system? Could we debate the English system versus the French system, given the lessons being learnt in France?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend makes a good point. When I was Secretary of State for Education and Science I looked into these matters, as the Leader of the Opposition had made comparisons with the French system and suggested that it was the prototype for us to follow. It is not only the recent revolts in Paris, showing concern about the French educational system, which are relevant. In this country we spend more per pupil than do the French; we pay our teachers better and we have less crowded classrooms; and the same applies to higher education. I should be happy to hold a debate to make these comparisons, since the Opposition have highlighted them, but I cannot promise a debate next week.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Will the Leader of the House find time in the near future for a debate on energy in so far as it relates to the assistance given on the continent to glass industries? He may be aware of the increasing international acclaim for our packaging industry—especially for glass and ceramics—and perhaps with the assistance given to our French competitors the industry might be able to advance worldwide.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend, but I certainly do not think that there will be an opportunity to debate these matters next week.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will my right hon. Friend give some thought to holding a debate on the situation in Iraq? Is not it becoming clear that Opposition Members are losing their nerve over facing up to Saddam Hussein?

Mr. MacGregor

I suspect that there are certainly divisions among the Opposition, but from the support that the official Opposition gave to my right hon. Friend's statement today it was clear what their position is—and I am grateful for it.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the tabling of the motion of no confidence has had a consequential effect on this week's agenda in so far as the debate on the Scottish economy, with reference to the crisis in the Scottish steel industry, has been taken off the agenda and for some reason is not on next week's? Is he aware that the Scottish steel workers will find it incomprehensible that the leader of the Labour party was more concerned to save Thatcher than he was about the Scottish steel industry?

Mr. MacGregor

I seem to recall that the hon. Gentleman made the same point the other night, when I told him that it was not a matter for me. No doubt the Leader of the Opposition will speak for himself. It was necessary to make a day available this week for the motion which the Opposition wished to table. The timing of the next Supply day debate will be a matter for discussion in the usual channels.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern felt by users of oil products about the possibility of oil companies making windfall profits out of the increases in oil prices as a result of the crisis in the Gulf? May we have an early opportunity to debate this, because evidence taken by the Select Committee on Energy this morning suggested that the oil companies are not making such windfall profits, although the countries producing the oil could be in receipt of considerable additional revenues which they would not have received had the crisis not taken place.

Mr. MacGregor

I think that the profits recently announced by Shell and BP were heavily influenced by stock appreciation. As my hon. Friend will know, the oil companies' pricing policies were examined by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in February and again by the Office of Fair Trading in August, and the industry was found to be competitive and not operating against the public interest. I know that there has been discussion about recent prices and I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend said. I cannot find an opportunity for a debate, but I am grateful to him for raising the matter.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

May I underline what was said by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) about the sad incident this morning involving the fishing vessel Antares and a Royal Navy submarine? I and some hon. Members from fishing constituencies in the west of Scotland have been warning for some time that such a thing could happen. We made a number of suggestions over 18 months to the Department of Transport about how such incidents might be avoided, but the Department has taken no action on those suggestions. When will a statement be made to the House about this tragic incident and about what is being done to avoid a repetition?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that I can add much to what I said earlier. I shall look at the question of an early statement. As the House will realise, it would be difficult to have such a statement today because of the business that we have in front of us. I shall draw to my right hon. Friend's attention what the hon. Members for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) and for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) have said.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Again, I have to say that it is with regret that I have to end business questions. I shall call two more hon. Members from each side and then we must move on.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 61 on an EC birds directive on pest species?

[That this House notes with deep concern the Government's intention to bow to European Community pressure demanding amendments to United Kingdom legislation, concerning pest birds; that this concerns the necessity for general licences for the killing and taking of the 13 pest species, including crows, magpies and woodpigeons, and which cause serious damage to property, crops and livestock as well as to the eggs and nests of song and game birds; and urges the Government to bring pressure to bear on the European Commission and Council to amend the European Community Birds Directive to permit the killing and taking of the 13 pest species throughout the year in the United Kingdom as at present.]

I understand that there have been some developments in the EEC in terms of withdrawing the restrictions on the shooting of wood pigeons and other pest species. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early statement by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food so that this matter may be totally clarified?

Mr. MacGregor

I understand the concern about this matter and, like some of my hon. Friends, I have received a good deal of correspondence on it. I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway).

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I should like to be able to join the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) in thanking the Leader of the House for something accomplished. When is the Leader of the House likely to announce a Select Committee for Northern Ireland because, like visitors to the House, this question will not go away?

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, I am aware of a number of questions on Select Committees, but I am not in a position to say anything at this time.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the one body in which no one has any faith is Cleveland county council? It is always pleading for more and more money and has now come up with its latest intellectual wheeze of changing the colour of all its fire engines from red to vermilion.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend makes his point very well.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Will the Leader of the House also seriously consider a debate on the national health service? Not only is there the problem of underfunding in the health service, about which every hon. Member knows, but the book-balancing policy at the end of the financial year is causing massive problems in Hull health district. This deterioration of service is unacceptable. It is causing serious problems and we must have a debate on the whole question of the Government's book-balancing policy at year end resulting from their reforms in the NHS.

Mr. MacGregor

There may be an opportunity to refer to such matters in the debate that follows and which I think the House is keen to move to. I cannot promise anything for next week.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You normally say when you curtail business questions, which, as you know, are important, that you will bear in mind the people who have been standing throughout and whose names are on the list. Perhaps you will do that in the usual way at next Thursday's business questions.

Mr. Speaker

I will certainly do that.