HC Deb 21 March 1991 vol 188 cc479-86 8.16 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, for the record, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.

  • MONDAY 25 MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget statement.
  • Money resolution relating to the Community Charges (General Reduction) Bill.
  • Third Reading of the War Crimes Bill.
  • TUESDAY 26 MARCH—Timetable motion, followed by proceedings on the Community Charges (General Reduction) Bill.
  • WEDNESDAY 27 MARCH—Debate On the Opposition motion of no confidence in Her Majesty's Government.
  • Motion relating to the British Nationality (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations.
  • THURSDAY 28 MARCH—Debates on the motion for the Adjournment.
  • The House may be asked to consider any Lords amendments which may be received.

It may be for the convenience of the House if I indicate that the business for the first week after the Easter Adjournment will be as follows:

Mr. Speaker, the House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet to consider European Community documents as follows:

[Tuesday 26 March

European Standing Committee B:

Relevant European Community Document

4345/91 Relief of Debt of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee HC 29-xiii (1990–91)

Wednesday 27 March

European Standing Committee A:

Relevant European Community Document

7214/90 Transport of Animals

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

HC 11-xxxi (1989–90) and

HC 29-iii (1990–91)

Wednesday 27 March

European Standing Committee B:

Relevant European Community Documents

(a) 9908/90 Equal Opportunities for Women and Men
(b) Unnumbered

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 29-vii (1990–91)
  2. (b) HC 29-vii (1990–91) and HC 29-xv (1990–91)

Wednesday 17 April

European Standing Committee B:

Relevant European Community Document

8353/90 Customs Controls on Baggage

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee HC 29-i (1990–91)

Thursday 18 April

Floor of the House:

Relevant European Community Documents

(a) 4549/91 Common Agricultural Policy: Development and Future
(b) 5032/91 + ADD 1–3 CAP Price Proposals 1991–92
(c) Unnumbered Export Refunds (Court of Auditors' Special Report No. 2/90)
(d) 6672/90 Agricultural Fraud Counter-Measures
6649/90 Community Rules (Checks and Penalties)
(f) 7320/90 Rural Development Initiatives

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 29-xii (1990–91)
  2. (b) HC 29-xv (1990–91)
  3. (c) HC 11-xxvii (1989–90)
  4. (d) HC 11-xxv (1989–90)
  5. (e) HC 11-xxvi (1989–90)
  6. (f) HC 11-xxx (1989–90)

Tuesday 16 April


  1. 1. Advice and Assistance (Scotland) (Prospective Costs) Regulations
  2. 2. Civil Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations
  3. 3. Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations

Wednesday 17 April

  1. 1. The Personal Community Charge ( Reductions) ( England) Regulations (1991 No. 230)
  2. 2. The Personal Community Charge ( Reductions) (England) (Amendment) Regulations (1991 No. 352).]

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Why has the Leader of the House created yet another precedent by asking the House to agree on Monday night the money resolution for the poll tax Bill on Tuesday? The House does not approve money resolutions before the Bills to which they relate have had a Second Reading. Before the Leader of the House cites the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974 as a precedent, may I tell him that I hope he will not equate the crisis in the Conservative party over the poll tax with a national security crisis that arose because of IRA bombing in 1974? On that Act the money resolution was the subject of general agreement through the usual channels. The Prevention of Terrorism Act was not guillotined, and in those exceptional circumstances the money resolution was taken first. It would be shameful for the Leader of the House to use that precedent of a national emergency as justification for taking the money resolution for the poll tax Bill before Second Reading.

The right hon. Gentleman has the ignominious reputation of having created two unsavoury parliamentary precedents, one on the money resolution itself and one on the guillotining in advance of a Finance Bill to replace most of an Act of Parliament which took months to put on the statute book and created hundreds of anomalies because of the capricious nature of the poll tax. That Bill is to be steamrollered through all its stages in just seven hours.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that he intends to keep the House waiting through the night of Wednesday/ Thursday next week to consider any Lords amendments to this invidious procedure? The Government will look even more stupid if they keep the House sitting for potential amendments to a Bill that seeks to introduce the Government's new twin tax—a property tax and a poll tax with a VAT surcharge riding on its back. That is no way to conduct serious matters of government. It would be far better for the Leader of the House to announce a proclamation for a general election so that people might decide on these matters rather than ramrod them through the House.

When the House resumes after the Easter recess—which seems inordinately lengthy when viewed alongside the panic-stricken activities of the Government and the poll tax Bill to be debated next week—will the right hon. Gentleman find an early opportunity for a debate on criminal justice? People in all political parties were shocked by the revelations about the deep and fundamental failures of our criminal justice system following the release of the Birmingham Six.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)


Dr. Cunningham

I should have thought that the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who practises at the Bar, would have been one of the first to recognise the need for such a debate.

Mr. Lawrence

I am grateful——

Mr. Speaker


Dr. Cunningham

The hon. and learned Gentleman need not be grateful to me because I am not paying him any compliments.

There is widespread dismay and concern about these matters, and it would be appropriate for the House to have an opportunity to debate them, although not in a party-political way because we know that such events have a long history. The Leader of the House would go some way towards restoring his tarnished reputation if he found time for such a debate.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman's remarks about a general election were rather stale and somewhat irrelevant. He asked about the money resolution. The way in which we propose to deal with that is for the general convenience of the House and is procedurally in order. I explained on Tuesday that we needed to get the Bill next week because that is to the advantage of local authorities and community charge payers. We shall be interested to hear in next week's debates and in the debate on the no confidence motion the view that the Opposition now take of the Bill, because their view is far from clear.

The Opposition are entitled to table no confidence motions and, as always, I have arranged time for a debate. We welcome the opportunity for a debate, but I wonder what can have possessed the Labour party to engage in a debate which will cruelly expose its lack of coherent policies. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we propose to reduce the charge to local residents by £140 per person in the coming year, and to get that done quickly is our reason for proposing speed on the Bill next week. Does Labour oppose that? We propose to pay for that reduction by increasing taxes on spending. Would Labour reverse that? There is no rush because next week there will be ample opportunity to expose the deficiencies in Labour's policies.

It is a short Bill of five clauses. We have had a full day on the purposes of the Bill and on other matters today and we shall have a full day on Monday during which the matter can be further discussed. We shall also debate it on Tuesday and Wednesday because the no confidence motion seems to be related to it. That means that there is plenty of time to debate these matters.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about criminal justice. It was entirely fair of him to say that this is not a party matter but one that concerns the whole House. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced the setting up of a royal commission. I have noted the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate. I rapidly had to find time for a debate on the no confidence motion. My problem is that there is a great deal of business for the House to conduct when we return after the recess. I shall certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. In consideration of hon. Members who wish to participate in the Budget debate, let me say that questions to the Leader of the House should be directed strictly to next week's business. Most hon. Members who wish to do so have asked questions on the other statements.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

I was about to apply myself to today's problems because I suppose it is many years since we had statements which lasted until about 9 o'clock. Can my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find some way to facilitate those of us who wish to speak on the Budget? Could he find a way to extend beyond 10 o'clock the business on the third day of the Budget debate? I cannot think of a way to do that, but my confidence in his ingenuity is so great that perhaps he can think of one.

Mr. MacGregor

I understand my right hon. Friend's frustration. As he knows, there is no procedural way to do what he suggests. The best contribution that I can make is to keep my answers extremely short.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

No doubt the Leader of the House will recall that in November, when we last had a no confidence motion, Conservative Members were somewhat divided on the question of leadership. The result of the debate was a nauseating display of unity among Tory Members. Exchanges today have shown that divisions are again occurring. What does the right hon. Gentleman divine to be the tactics of the Leader of the Opposition on this occasion?

Mr. MacGregor

I recall that occasion, and there was complete unity on this side of the House, as there will be on Wednesday. For the second time in a short period, Opposition Members will fall flat on their faces.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if the Government had not come forward with £140 for each community charge payer, there would not be a no confidence motion? Perhaps next week the Labour party will explain why the extra help to those that they claim to represent causes it to say that the Government have got it wrong rather than that the Government have got it right.

Mr. MacGregor

The Opposition will have a great deal of time next week to explain that and to answer questions about their proposals which have not yet been answered.

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to come to the House next week to make a statement about a serious situation that has developed in the west Yorkshire police? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is great worry in west Yorkshire about the fact that the criminal fraternity is well in advance of the police on new technology? Is he also aware that criminals in that area were buoyant last week when they saw an announcement from the police authority that, as well as having lost 500 policemen on the beat, it is now unable to fill the vacant post of assistant chief constable? The Home Secretary is obliged to come to the House and tell us why he is not forcing the Department of the Environment to allow that authority to fill the post in accordance with the Home Secretary's criteria.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend, but it is impossible to fit in a statement of that sort next week.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

Remembering that the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), when Secretary of State, used to delight in coming to the Dispatch Box to announce new jobs that had been established—for instance, 400 jobs in a motor manufacturing plant—is there any chance that next week the appropriate Secretary of State will come to the Dispatch Box, perhaps on Tuesday when there is a lobby on the matter, to explain what help the Government think that they can give to the more than 3,000 workers who have been laid off by British Aerospace, including 675 at the Chadderton plant in Oldham? Can they look to the Government for any help in their difficulty?

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman may know, the company has said that it took the measures that it announced this morning to protect the long-term future of the business. It said that it is imperative that it achieves further improvements in operating efficiency if it is to maintain its competitive position in the world market.

On the commercial side, the company has quoted the effects of world recession, the weakness of the United States dollar and the continued price pressure on air fares as grounds for the need to reduce costs. I am afraid that I see no cause for a statement next week on this matter.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be not only unanimity among Conservative Members next week but relief, gratitude and enthusiasm in equal measure?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that since his last business statement the Select Committee on Trade and Industry has published its report calling for an early debate in the House on the closure of Ravenscraig, and that since the report was completed the situation has further deteriorated, with the closure of another blast furnace? Do the Government intend to find time for an early debate, given that the right hon. Gentleman has already announced today that the Government are bringing forward the remaining stages of the British Technology Group Bill after Easter? Is he aware that in Committee Ministers undertook to carry out certain consultations and that it is unlikely that they will be completed by then? Could the business perhaps be delayed?

Mr. MacGregor

I certainly do not want to delay the business, but I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point about the remaining stages of the Bill to the attention of my right hon. Friends.

The Government are carefully considering the Select Committee's report, including its recommendation of an early debate, and we will respond to it in the usual way.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

Is the Leader of the House aware that earlier this evening television interviews were held with the leaders of Conservative authorities who expressed deep disgust with the statement made by the Secretary of State for the Environment? If there is to be confidence in local government on the part of those who serve in it and of the public who look to it to provide services, is it not time that we had a much fuller statement on what is to replace the poll tax instead of the airy-fairy statements that we have heard today?

Mr. MacGregor

I did not see the interviews because I have been sitting in the Chamber for some hours waiting to make this statement—so I have heard some pretty full statements from my right hon. Friends on the subject.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On the "Poll Tax (Panic and Bribery) Bill" next Monday and Tuesday, I assume that the money resolution will be open-ended. Presumably the Secretary of State will deal with it, because we shall want a great deal of detailed information, especially about whether people in receipt of rebates and transitional relief will receive some or all of the £140.

I assume that the guillotine motion on Tuesday's business can be debated for a long time and may therefore eat into the debate. Therefore, can the debate be extended to midnight to give us a minimal opportunity of debating this attack on parliamentary democracy, and so that the Secretary of State can answer many of the questions that he was clearly unable to answer this afternoon?

Mr. MacGregor

It is ridiculous to describe this as an attack on parliamentary democracy. We are trying to get the measures through the House—allowing a reasonable amount of time for them, given that it is a small Bill—to help community charge payers and local authorities.

The money resolution will be proceeded with in the same way as such resolutions always are. The timetable motion on Tuesday will proceed similarly. It will be published and on the Order Paper tomorrow.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the debate in European Standing Committee A next Wednesday may be the last opportunity that the House has to discuss the controversial order to do with the export of live horses, a subject about which many Members have received a great deal of correspondence? Does he recall that the Prime Minister gave an undertaking to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) that there would be reports relating to the intergovernmental conferences on monetary and political union in the Community? Can he assure us that after Easter the House will be given a verbal statement after those Council meetings, and that the Government will not rely on scrutiny by Select Committees such as the one that is to meet next Monday?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's second point. As for his first, I agree about the importance of the document relating to the protection of horses during transport. Like many colleagues, I have received voluminous mail on the subject and I am sympathetic to those who have written to me. The Government's position has been made clear: we are endeavouring to achieve all the safeguards that we require. It would be possible to raise this matter on the Floor of the House during the agriculture debate in the week we come back.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I believe that the Leader of the House said that European Standing Committee B is to meet twice next week. As someone who was appointed to that Committee with no consultation—I do not know what parliamentary crime I committed that I should have been put on it—I remind the right hon. Gentleman that on 22 January he said, among other things: It seems likely that each Standing Committee will have about two sittings per month."—[Official Report, 22 January 1991; Vol. 184, c. 271.] Yet we are meeting weekly, and now there are to be two meetings a week. May we have an early statement on the frequency of these meetings or perhaps on an increase in the number of Committees? I am asking for a break.

Mr. MacGregor

Someone else will have to explain what crime the hon. Gentleman committed to cause him to serve on the Committee. As I have often said, I am keen to review the workings of these Committees as we get more experience of them. They have not met at all in some weeks. One of the issues, as it was when EC documents were scrutinised in the previous system, is that the timetable is not entirely in our hands because it depends on what business is coming up in the Community. One step that we have taken to assist members of the Committee is to give them as much notice as possible of when it will meet—usually longer notice than in the statement that I made to the House. I am certainly prepared to look into whether there should be more members and into other issues that may arise once we have more experience of the working of the Committees.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I do not know whether the Leader of the House missed me during questions on the last couple of business statements, but he may be interested to know that I was in Canada studying baby harp seals which used to be clubbed to death, rather in the same way as the Government are clubbing democracy to death in Parliament. He will be aware that the killing of these baby seals ended as the culmination of a political campaign in the House and in the European Parliament, which forced the Canadian Government to impose a ban. It now looks as though that Government may be considering allowing an extension of seal culling, so I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether we can have a debate, if not next week, as soon as possible thereafter, on animal conservation. It is a matter of great concern to many Members in the House and to many more people outside it. In such a debate we could discuss the Canadian seal cull along with many other matters relating to animal welfare.

Mr. MacGregor

I had not realised that one of the qualities of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was arrogance. I shall puncture his arrogance and say that I did not miss him during the past two business statements.

Mr. Banks


Mr. MacGregor

I apologise for cutting the hon. Gentleman.

On the serious business that he raises, I was not aware of such a development. There may be other ways in which the issue can be raised in the House, but I shall bear in mind what he said.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

The Community Charges (General Reduction) Bill that affects all of our constituents will not be published until after this question has been answered. That means that many hon. Members who have already left for various reasons will be unable to gain ready access to it. What avenues are available to introduce amendments to such a significant Bill, which will be dealt with in the House in very inadequate circumstances on Tuesday?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that hon. Members who are sufficiently interested in tabling amendments will have arranged to obtain copies of the Bill. The normal arrangements for dealing with amendments will apply in this case.