HC Deb 03 June 1992 vol 208 cc841-7 4.16 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement.

The business for today and for the remainder of this week will now be as follows:

TODAY—Debate on the Earth summit in Rio on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I suggested that yesterday.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I am glad, for once, to accommodate him.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Not too often.

Mr. Newton

I accept that as well.

THURSDAY 4 JUNE—Proceedings on the Community Care (Residential Accommodation) Bill [Lords], followed by proceedings on the Mauritius Republic Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 5 JUNE—The same business I proposed when I made my statement last week—a debate entitled "Tenants' Rights, Opportunities and Participation" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

I shall, of course, be making a statement tomorrow, in the normal way, on the business for next week.

Madam Speaker

Before I call hon. Members to ask questions on the business statement, I remind the House that it is a supplementary statement and that it deals only with the business for today and tomorrow. It would be totally out of order to ask other questions; I would not accept them.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

I thank the Leader of the House for the statement and welcome his announcement of a debate later today on the Earth summit. May we have an assurance that, following the Prime Minister's return from Rio, we shall have a statement in the House on what transpired during that important conference in Brazil?

May I also express my disappointment that the Leader of the House has not taken the opportunity provided by the new time available to arrange a debate on the plight of the Maxwell pensioners? I understand the Government's need to bring the two Bills that will be discussed tomorrow to the Chamber at some time, but surely this was an excellent opportunity for the Government to provide time for a debate on the plight of the Maxwell pensioners—

Madam Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is riot heeding my warning—

Dr. Cunningham

But I am talking about tomorrow. I am asking the Leader of the House to think again about the business that he has announced for tomorrow, to take off the Bills that he has announced and instead hold a debate on the plight of the Maxwell pensioners. I am sure that that is in order, given the statement that has been made.

I reiterate the request made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister—that following the discussions at the Council of Ministers and the consultations in which the Government will obviously be involved, the Prime Minister should lay on the Table of the House a written statement of the Government's conclusions; and that that statement be debated before consideration of the Maastricht treaty is undertaken.

Mr. Newton

To take those points in reverse order, the hon. Gentleman will have heard what the Prime Minister said in response to his right hon. Friend's request and his subsequent acknowledgement that, although this was a matter for further consideration, including by me, he was sympathetic to the proposal. I need hardly add that the Prime Minister's expressed sympathy for the proposal will be borne very much in mind by me.

As for the hon. Gentleman's intermediate point, I cannot add at this stage either to what I have just said in my statement or to what I said at business questions last week. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has said on a number of occasions that he hopes before too long to make a statement on the Government's proposals on the review of the framework of occupational pensions law. That will provide some opportunity for comment along the lines that the hon. Gentleman has sought.

Lastly, I would expect there to be a statement following the Prime Minister's return from Rio.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

The first item under Orders of the Day is not to be moved, but I notice that on the motion for the Adjournment my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Sir T. Arnold) will raise the matter of the future of the British banking industry within the European Community. Will my right hon. Friend explain how he will accommodate the two debates that appear to be before us today?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend is a former Chief Whip with considerable experience of these matters. I hope that I am right in saying that I expect that the Government Whip will shortly move the Adjournment of the House and the debate on Rio will take place on that motion until 10 pm—at which point the motion to allow further debate of the Maastricht Bill will not be moved and the Adjournment will again be moved so that the debate to which my right hon. Friend refers can take place.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Whatever view one takes of the issue, I am sure that the Government were right to defer debate on the Committee stage to a later date. That gives everyone a chance to take stock.

There is some prospect of the Foreign Secretary engaging in some quick negotiations with some of his counterparts in Europe, and he may be in a position to make a statement on Friday, so will the right hon. Gentleman encourage him in that and ensure that the facility to do so is provided?

Will the Leader of the House take to heart the fact that as the debate on Rio today takes the form of an Adjournment debate, so that the issue is unamendable and will not be voted on, we shall need an opportunity later for proper debate on a substantive motion which could be amended and voted on?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman's last point should be considered once we know the outcome of the Rio summit and have heard the statement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will doubtless want to make on it.

One advantage of a debate taking place on a motion for the Adjournment is that it enables hon. Members to range widely; it is not excessively restrictive in terms of the negotiating position that the Government will need to adopt at Rio.

I have forgotten the hon. Gentleman's second point—

Mr. Kirkwood

The Council of Ministers.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will seek to inform the House of the conclusions of the meeting at Oslo at the earliest possible opportunity.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

So as to remain in order, the Leader of the House said that he would make his normal business statement on Thursday. I remind him of the Procedure Committee recommendations about the business statement. The House seemed to agree that, as far as possible, the Leader of the House should announce business for two weeks rather than one. If my right hon. Friend could move in that direction, he would become even more popular.

Mr. Newton

That sounds like a rather ingenious way round one of your earlier observations, Madam Speaker. My respect for my hon. Friend is such that even in those circumstances I am prepared at least to take note of what he has said.

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his response to the question about Maxwell pensioners? Is he aware that many thousands of Maxwell pensioners are facing severe financial and physical hardship? Is he further aware that those pensioners are getting ministerial views on the matter from the newspapers? Does he not think that it would be better for Ministers to make a statement tomorrow about the position of those pensioners?

Mr. Newton

I cannot add to what I said in response to the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). Obviously the Government are aware of the concern about this matter.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I welcome the statement about a debate on Mauritius, which occupies most of my waking thoughts. I hope that during the debate we shall deal with the problems that Mauritius may have about referendums. There is a distinct resemblance between the referendum in Denmark and a Mauritius referendum and it strikes me—it is only a thought—that the Danish Government might ignore the result of the referendum or have a replay in the hope of reversing the decision. I trust that the same thing would not happen in Mauritius.

Mr. Newton

Given that the purpose of the Mauritius Republic Bill is to provide for the consequential effects of Mauritius not only being independent but being a republic, I shall not attempt to use this occasion to tell the Government of the Mauritius Republic how to conduct its affairs; nor do I intend to seek to add to what the Prime Minister said about the decision in Denmark being a matter for the Danish Government and people.

Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)

Would the Leader of the House reconsider his business statement for today and tomorrow and find time for a discussion of early-day motion 82 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell)?

[That this House condemns the Government for pursuing policies that have led to an emerging crisis in National Health Service dentistry; notes the increasing difficulties experienced in many parts of the country in obtaining registration as National Health Service dental patients because of the growing number of dentists that have been driven to withdraw National Health dental services through a deliberate policy of underpricing the new dental contract; warns that further and rapid deterioration will take place if the Government fulfils its intention of cutting dental fees further; condemns the pursuit of a backdoor policy of privatisation of dentistry through underfunding and higher patient charges; and commends the General Dental Practitioners Association for drawing this serious situation to the nation's attention.]

Many dentists in my constituency—

Madam Speaker

Order. I regret to call the hon. Gentleman to order. I know that he is a new Member, and I am trying to be helpful. That is the type of business question to put to the Leader of the House on Thursdays during normal business questions. The hon. Gentleman has had a good try. I hope that he will attempt to catch my eye on another occasion.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

In relation to the business that has been announced for tomorrow, does my right hon. Friend recall that 10 days ago, when we discussed the business for this week, the shadow Leader of the House said that he wanted a debate on Maxwell? I supported that call for a debate and said that in the previous Parliament the Opposition had not called for such a debate.

Madam Speaker

Order. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. The hon. Gentleman must come to order and ask a question about the business today or tomorrow, and he must be precise.

Mr. Shaw

I am trying to clarify the situation. When I left the Chamber at the end of business questions last time, I was unfairly and incorrectly criticised by the shadow Leader of the House. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I am prepared to hear the hon. Gentleman if he has a precise question to put to the Leader of the House about the business for today or tomorrow.

Mr. Shaw

I may have to raise the matter as a point of order.

Madam Speaker

Order. I will take no points of order until we have finished questions. If the hon. Gentleman has a question to put to the Leader of the House, I am prepared to hear it.

Mr. Shaw

I would also support calls for a debate tomorrow, because this week is an appropriate week to have a debate on the plight of the Maxwell pensioners. This is getting serious. The number of Maxwell pensioners who face losing all or part of their pensions is increasing, as more information comes out week by week. We have also heard this week about the money controlled from Liechtenstein, which could be used to help these pensioners and should be brought back to the United Kingdom. Parliament needs to address the issue. I urge the Leader of the House to change the business so that we can have a debate on the plight of the Maxwell pensioners.

Mr. Newton

Having touched on this matter twice now, I cannot add to what I said earlier except to make, as I think I did on the previous occasion that my hon. Friend raised this matter, the point that he was a member of the Select Committee and that another matter on my right hon. Friend's agenda is his reply to the Select Committee's proposals.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Given that yesterday's referendum highlighted the gap between Parliament and people in Denmark, that an even greater gap exists between the Scottish people and this Parliament, and that it will no longer be possible to raise that point in the debates in the Committee considering the Bill that would have implemented Maastricht, why does not the Leader of the House take the opportunity of the cancellation of the Bill to arrange a debate for tomorrow to deal with the demand in Scotland for a multi-option referendum? That would at least give the Prime Minister the opportunity to explain to the House and the people why he refuses to apply here at home the principle of subsidiarity which he preaches so piously across Europe.

Mr. Newton

I cannot add to the extensive remarks of my right hon. Friend on the subject just a few moments ago.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

He said nothing.

Mr. Newton

That is what I am not adding to.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

When we debate the Mauritius Republic Bill, will the Minister who answers be briefed on three specific issues? The first is the plight of those who lived in Diego Garcia and were turfed out and put in appalling circumstances in Mauritius so as to create the biggest Anglo-American base outside the continental United States. We have certain moral obligations to those people who were turned off their island and sent to Mauritius. Both the compensation that they were given and the diseases that they have incurred since arriving in Mauritius are shame-making. We have a moral responsibility, when Mauritius becomes a republic, for these Ilois people.

Secondly, will the Minister be briefed on what we are proposing to do to help Mauritius to look after its mangrove swamps, which are extremely important for fish breeding? Again, if we are serious about the outcome of Rio, we have an obligation, because we have great expertise both in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and in the Department of the Environment.

Thirdly, we need clarification of the constitutional position between Mauritius and the former British Indian Ocean territories, particularly Aldabra atoll—a point that I raised at great length in the 1960s. It has been a success story, with an outstation of the Royal Society, but, nevertheless, its position has to be clarified if there is to be a change in the constitutional position of Mauritius.

Mr. Newton

I shall not attempt to answer all the hon. Gentleman's points, but he asked me the specific question whether I would draw these matters to the attention of the Minister speaking tomorrow. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be extremely pleased to have advance warning of what is to be raised in the debate and I shall ensure that that warning is passed on. As to the second of the three points, it appears to me that fish breeding in mangrove swamps is a matter that, subject to the opinion of the occupant of the Chair, might be raised during the remainder of today's proceedings.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I welcome today's debate on the Rio summit but will there be a statement during the debate on the Government's attitude towards the assassination of street children in Brazil? Bearing in mind that the number of killings has increased in the run-up to the summit, does the Leader of the House agree that this is an urgent matter which requires the intervention of the Prime Minister during his visit to Rio and a statement during today's debate?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who will speak in the debate, is in his place and will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a reference to the matter in response to a question during Prime Minister's Question Time on Tuesday.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

The Community Care (Residential Accommodation) Bill is an important piece of proposed legislation. It would be a matter of great regret if tomorrow we were to allow all its stages to be completed on the nod. The business statement did not make clear exactly what arrangements are being made for amendments. Will the Leader of the House set out in some detail the procedure that will be adopted for the tabling of amendments to the Bill?

Mr. Newton

That is a matter for the Chair. I am sure that those who are responsible for considering whether manuscript amendments will be accepted will have heard the hon. Gentleman's implicit representations on the matter.

I endorse the hon. Gentleman's view that the Community Care (Residential Accommodation) Bill is an important piece of legislation. It concerns especially the position of Abbeyfield societies. As president of the Brainfield Abbeyfield Society, I feel strongly about the matter.

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

I share some of the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Will the Leader of the House confirm that we shall be dealing tomorrow with all stages of the Mauritius Republic Bill? If that is so, and given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding today's business statement, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that at some stage during today's proceedings Members will have the right to table amendments to that Bill, and the other Bill that will be before us tomorrow?

Madam Speaker

I can be of assistance to the House. In the exceptional circumstances that we shall face tomorrow, I am sure that it will be for the convenience of the House if amendments are received by the Clerks at the Table before Second Reading. I know that an informal list of amendments will he placed in the Vote Office.

Dr. Godman

Is there a chance of a supplementary question, Madam Speaker?

Madam Speaker

I call Mr. Faulds.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Will the Leader of the House accept that there will be general pleasure that there will be an opportunity tomorrow to discuss the problems of endangered species? But does the right hon. Gentleman share my view that the dodos who have been on parade this afternoon do not represent either the majority view of the House of Commons or, indeed, the British people?

Mr. Newton

I am not sure precisely who the hon. Gentleman has in mind, but I must say that I would never have dreamed of referring to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in that way.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the previous business questions I said that no Opposition Member had called for a Maxwell debate until those business questions, and had not done so before the general election. After I left the Chamber, the shadow Leader of the House deemed it necessary to accuse me of inaccuracy. I have since obtained from the Library a letter which confirms that I was correct and that no Opposition Member had called for a Maxwell debate in the previous Parliament. I would hope that the shadow Leader of the House would accept that I was correct on that occasion.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

The hon. Gentleman made a wild and inaccurate charge about the speeches, interviews and statements that were commonplace among Opposition Members about the plight of Maxwell pensioners. He is now narrowing the issue to what happened in the Chamber. He is trying to wriggle off the hook of the third-rate smear that he aimed at the Labour party, which I reject.

Mr. Shaw


Madam Speaker

Order. There can be no further points of order on that matter. I have heard the hon. Members for Dover (Mr. Shaw) and for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). The matter is now finished with.