HC Deb 11 June 1992 vol 209 cc447-56 3.31 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

Yes, Madam. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 15 JUNE—Second Reading of the Boundary Commissions Bill.

TUESDAY 16 JUNE—Opposition day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate described as "The Problems Facing Water Consumers Since Privatisation" on an Opposition motion.

WEDNESDAY 17 JUNE—Second Reading of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuance) Order.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

THURSDAY 18 JUNE—Motion on the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order.

Motion on the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order.

FRIDAY 19 JUNE—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 22 JUNE—Progress in Committee of the Boundary Commissions Bill.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee A will meet on Wednesday 17 June 1992 to discuss civil aviation.

[Wednesday 17 June 1992

European Standing Committee A

Relevant European Community Documents

(a) 5080/90 Civil aviation: Community competence
(b) 8207/91 Civil Aviation

Relevant Report of the European Legislation Committee

Dr. Cunningham

Can the Leader of the House confirm that it is still the Prime Minister's intention to make an oral statement in the House on his return next week from the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro? I believe that such a statement would be welcomed throughout the House.

When does the Leader of the House expect to be able to table motions to establish the Select Committees of the House? The Opposition believe that there should be a Select Committee to cover each Department of State. We cannot accept in this Parliament what prevailed in the last-when, in defiance of Standing Orders, there was no Select Committee to deal with Scottish affairs throughout the entire Parliament. If the right hon. Gentleman is willing to meet those two principles, there is no reason why the Select Committees cannot be established very quickly.

Will the Leader of the House tell us his intentions and can we have some advice next week about the report of the Select Committee on Sittings of the House? Inevitably, the report was a compromise. Nevertheless, it was generally welcomed, and it would benefit the House if the right hon. Gentleman could find time for an early debate on it.

As a result of the Danish referendum and its consequences for the Maastricht treaty, may we conclude that there will be no further consideration of the Bill to ratify that treaty before the House rises for the summer recess?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has asked four questions, the first of which was about a statement on Rio. I expect that on his return the Prime Minister will make a statement on the Earth summit. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that there has already been some discussion through the usual channels about Select Committees. Both he and I are anxious to press ahead as quickly as possible, and I note his comments in that connection.

The hon. Gentleman asked about what is known to most hon. Members as the Jopling report. I detect some difference of emphasis above and below the Gangway on the Opposition side. I am aware of the widespread interest in the matter and I shall soon make an announcement about the timing of the debate. Perhaps we can have further discussions about it through the usual channels.

Questions about the European Communities (Amendment) Bill are also matters for consideration, but I assure him—it is implicit in my statement—that there is no question of that Bill returning to the House next week.

Mr. William Powell (Corby)

Further to what my right hon. Friend said about the Jopling report, is he aware that there is considerable dissatisfaction because he has failed yet again to announce, even tentatively, the business for the week after next? That was one of the easiest recommendations of the Jopling report for him to accept. There is continuing consternation that he has failed to announce the date upon which the House will rise for the summer recess—a matter of the utmost importance to many hon. Members with families.

Mr. Newton

I genuinely note what my hon. Friend says. I observe, perhaps rather wryly, that some of the difficulties are illustrated by the uncertainties that have attended parliamentary business over the past 10 days.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Following the statement by the Prime Minister on his return from Rio, may we expect an early debate on a substantive motion on that matter? It would be helpful to know whether there is any prospect of that before the summer recess.

What progress, if any, has the right hon. Gentleman been able to make on the recommendation from the Top Salaries Review Body on secretarial allowances and Members' pay?

Mr. Newton

On the first question, I think I said last week that the sensible course would be to await the outcome of the Rio summit and the Prime Minister's statement following that. Perhaps we could then consider a debate by discussions in the usual way. I hope soon to inform the House of our intentions about publishing the report from the Top Salaries Review Body on the Members' office costs allowance.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that Conservative Members are concerned about the Select Committees and that there is a real desire that Select Committees should monitor every Department? Will he undertake to make a statement next week on this?

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to make a statement with that degree of precision, although I should certainly like to do so. I acknowledge my hon. Friend's concern, which I am sure is shared by the shadow Leader of the House and by other hon. Members.

Ms. Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week to summon the Secretary of State for Health to the House to answer questions about security in our nation's hospitals? On 25 May Mr. Gordon Woodhatch, one of my constituents, while a patient of the Royal Free hospital in my constituency, was murdered. My correspondence to date with the Secretary of State, the first letter demanding an independent inquiry, produced one letter, the final phrase of which was that day-to-day security was the responsibility of the hospital's managers. That is not an acceptable response to such a serious crime. Five hours before the murder, a nurse in the accident and emergency department of the hospital was attacked. These are two more of the growing number of incidents in our hospitals of attacks both on patients—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order I have to draw the hon. Lady's attention to the fact that we are not having a debate. Her question must be specific and in good order, as it was originally, and directed to the Leader of the House.

Ms. Jackson

My apologies, Madam Speaker. It is just that this issue has caused such concern not only to my constituents but to the relatives of my constituent who was killed that I shall be grateful for the Secretary of State's response.

Mr. Newton

I respect the way in which the hon. Lady has brought to the attention of the House what is clearly an important case both for the hospital and for the people involved. From my experience as Minister for Health some years ago, I can assure her that this matter is generally taken seriously, and I shall draw her remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. On the specific question lurking at the beginning of the hon. Lady's remarks, I note that I shall not have to summon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to the House next week because, according to my notes, she is due to answer questions on health matters on Tuesday.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

When will the charge-capping measures be laid before the House? Is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that the Department of the Environment has got it wrong and that Warwickshire should not be in the dock?

Mr. Newton

That appears to be another comment that I need to draw to the attention of one of my right hon. Friends. I cannot answer the specific question, but I anticipate that measures will be laid before the House at the earliest possible opportunity after the necessary process of observations by and consultations with the councils concerned has been gone through.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Further to the request on Select Committees made by the shadow Leader of the House, I refer the Leader of the House to the correspondence that he has had with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) in which he suggested that the Government were reconsidering the position of the territorial Select Committees for Wales and for Scotland and of the one that there should be for Northern Ireland. What is the nature of the difficulties, and when will they be resolved?

Mr. Newton

I am aware that I have written recently to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). I am somewhat surprised at the construction that has been placed on my letter because no such construction was intended when I wrote it.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, apart from a tiny eccentric minority, the overwhelming majority of Members want to get on with the Jopling reforms of the sittings of the House? Why cannot my right hon. Friend announce a debate within the next two or three weeks and give us an assurance that the reforms in the report will be put into effect when we come back from the long recess?

Mr. Newton

I note what my hon. Friend says. I hope to be able to announce such a debate within the time that my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

When the Committee is considering the Boundary Commissions Bill, will the Government table an amendment to ensure that, as the register of 1991 to be used in the Boundary Commissions review is corrupt with 1.5 million people missing from it, an alternative will be used?

Mr. Newton

I cannot give undertakings from the Dispatch Box about the tabling of Government amendments to a Bill that has only recently been published. The hon. Gentleman may feel it right to make his point in the debates on the Bill. In my experience, the great majority of people not on the register are not there because they have chosen not to be. I do not see how they can be forced to do what they do not wish to do.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is it not ridiculous and frankly embarrassing that at a time when the Government might very well gain some all-party guidance on the settlement of the Maastricht dispute, and when people are coming here from every western and eastern Parliament to understand the mysteries of British parliamentary democracy, we do not have a Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and are unlikely to do so until the autumn? Surely there must be a case, whatever the arguments between the sides, for setting up at least the Foreign Affairs Select Committee so that we can get on with the business of the House.

Mr. Newton

I have the message. It is one that I have already received from a number of right hon. and hon. Members. I would only add that it is neither my aim nor my intention that these matters should wait until the autumn.

Ms. Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

Will the Leader of the House allow next week for a debate or statement on the scandal of the large and empty building facing the House of Commons—county hall? Will he bring the Secretary of State to the House to discuss the matter? He is considering sending civil servants to docklands, but should not we be considering county hall, and in particular the London School of Economics' proposal to use that valuable site?

Mr. Newton

At this rate I shall be issuing summonses to virtually all my right hon. Friends. Instead, I shall undertake to bring the hon. Lady's remarks to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on education? In view of the hostility that has been shown by many Labour councils to schools that have opted out, may we have an early debate to clarify the Labour party's policy? It would appear that there has been a welcome shift in its opinion.

Mr. Newton

That sounds like a good idea, but perhaps we had better leave the Opposition to decide what matters they wish to bring to the House.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Since at two well-attended meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee hon. Members from both sides clearly said that there should be consultation with the various organisations in Scotland on the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill, will the Leader of the House explain why next Wednesday will see the Second Reading of that Bill? Is it not possible to look again at the possibility of a Special Standing Committee to enable consultation to take place; otherwise we shall have a second-rate law reform instead of listening to the first-rate arguments that have been put forward?

Mr. Newton

It seemed to the Government in the light of what happened that this was the most appropriate way of carrying forward decision-making on the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill. It does not seem to us at this stage to be an appropriate matter for a Special Standing Committee.

Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)

As a television programme on Monday night will demonstrate open racketeering in drugs in gyms throughout Britain, will my right hon. Friend find time for us to debate the drugs issue?

Mr. Newton

I cannot respond immediately to the request for a debate on the matter, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government take the matter seriously and we shall look carefully at the programme to which he has referred.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

I welcome the Home Secretary's release of the Hess papers. However, as the Government still appear to be holding on to the papers from the Alderney concentration camp in the United Kingdom, may we have a debate on the Government's general policies on the retention and release of such historical papers? The entire file is missing, and there seems to be no reason for that—it cannot be a matter of security. The issue should be debated on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Newton

Again, I cannot promise the debate that the hon. and learned Gentleman wants, but I shall ensure that attention is given to his point about a particular set of papers, and I hope that he will at least acknowledge that the release of the Hess papers is in line with the Government's move, with the general assent of the House, towards the greater release of information.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

My right hon. Friend has discussed the timing of the debate on the Jopling report. Will he give an undertaking that we shall be able to vote on substantive motions in that debate, or does he propose merely an Adjournment debate? This week, more than 100 additional Members have signed the motion calling for a debate and almost 200 in all have signed it.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will probably recall that I said some weeks ago that it seemed to me—I think that I had the general support of the House—that in a new Parliament, with a substantial number of new Members, the sensible course at this stage was a debate on the report as a whole.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

May I draw to the attention of the Leader of the House the tragic case in my constituency of a 15-year-old boy who is only now recovering from a serious heart attack caused by solvent abuse? Given that 149 people, mainly young people, died last year from solvent abuse, and given that we have had a campaign in the House for more than a decade—my predecessor the late Jimmy Dempsey was very much involved, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall)—is it not time we had a serious debate on this important issue so that the consensus which I believe exists in the House can lead to long overdue legislation?

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Gentleman's concern. From duties that I have performed previously, I am familiar with his long interest in these matters. Although I cannot promise a debate, I can assure him, his hon. Friends and my hon. Friends that the Government take these matters seriously.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I am sorry to press my right hon. Friend on the question of Select Committees —on reflection, I am not sorry. Everyone wants Select Committees to be set up, yet they are not being set up. "As soon as possible" seems to mean some time before the autumn. We can know all about Rudolf Hess, and we can know all about MI5 and MI6—so perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell us what the blockage is in the usual channels. Ordinary hon. Members might be able to unblock those channels if we knew what was going on.

Mr. Newton

I do not think that I have used, either implicitly or explicitly, the word "blockage". A number of issues have needed to be considered. I hope that it will be possible to carry the matter forward quite soon.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that it has cost taxpayers £500,000 in salaries since the Select Committees last met? Will he consider whether, if there is a further dragging of feet, the Government should take a leaf out of their own book? This week, they announced that those who had not behaved properly over the Maxwell affair should contribute to rebuilding the funds. Will those who are responsible for the blockage about which we have just heard dip into their own pockets and make good that sum to the taxpayer?

Mr. Newton

I do not think that I can either immediately adopt the hon. Gentleman's suggestion or accept the implication that there has been improper dragging of feet. I note that his distinguished voice has been added to the pressure coming from all parts of the Chamber.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week on the security clearance of staff in the Refreshment Department? Many of us saw reports in the press over the weekend about an international hitman with HIV who served hon. Members on the Terrace. In this enlightened age, we are not meant to worry about being served by a waiter with HIV, but many of us object strongly to being served by an international hitman who should have been spotted in the security clearance. Will my right hon. Friend look at the matter and make a statement?

Mr. Newton

It will not surprise my hon. Friend to know that the report caused concern in minds besides his. The Serjeant at Arms and the House authorities are looking closely into what happened and will take any practicable steps that can be taken to avoid a repetition.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Further to his reply to the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) on the Second Reading of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill, will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to explain at the start of the debate next Wednesday just why the Government believe it inappropriate to bring in people to make representations on behalf of others for whom they wish to speak? There are many people in Scotland who feel that it is obvious that such an opportunity should be given and cannot understand why the Government reject the idea.

Mr. Newton

I shall not need to ask my right hon. Friend to do that. I am sure that he will seek to do so. If he does not, I feel sure that the hon. Lady will ask him to do so.

Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

In considering the re-establishment of the Select Committees, will my right hon. Friend take into account the fact that it is more important to get the subject matters right rather than to set up Committees for each Department? In the last Parliament it was agreed that the Home Affairs Select Committee should be responsible for the Lord Chancellor's Department as well. It is the working arrangements that matter most, not a Select Committee for each Department.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend has been the very distinguished Chairman of a Select Committee. I note with respect the view that he expresses. I have not heard the suggestion, if this is what is in his mind, that there should be a special Select Committee for the Lord Chancellor's Department.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

As 10 days are available that had previously been allocated for consideration of the Maastricht Bill, could time be allocated to debating three reports from the Select Committee on Members' Interests? Reports were requested, in the main by this House, on the register of commercial lobbying organisations, on the rules affecting Select Committee Chairmen and on the rules affecting Members. As Select Committees have not yet been chosen on a departmental basis, surely it would make sense to draw up the new rules on Chairmen and Chairwomen before the Select Committees are established. The rules were drawn up and examined by the Select Committee on Members' Interests to protect the House and people outside from corruption in here. What is holding up the Government?

Mr. Newton

I am mindful of the fact that this matter has been raised during business questions for the last two or three weeks. I very much note what has been said, but I cannot add to what I said last week.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Although I agree with everything that has been said about the need for the immediate establishment of Select Committees, that is not the subject of my question, for which I am sure that my right hon. Friend is grateful. The Government intend to introduce legislation relating to the enfranchisement of leaseholders and all matters relating to commonhold. Can my right hon. Friend say when that very important Bill will be introduced? He has clearly intimated that it will not be introduced next week.

Mr. Newton

The two subjects to which my hon. Friend referred will be dealt with slightly differently. The leasehold enfranchisement provisions are expected to be included in the Housing, Land and Urban Development Bill, which I anticipate will come before the House in the autumn. Commonhold will be dealt with separately. I do not wish to hold out hopes that it will be practicable to deal with it in the current Session.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 233? [That this House deplores the conduct of Government supporters engaging in practices such as the cloak and dagger approaches made by the honourable Members for Stockton South and Lanbaurgh to headteachers in constituencies other than their own in calling them to 'a private meeting to discuss recent changes in legislation on 12th June between 5.30 and 7.00 at an hotel in Teesside, unidentified, where there will be a presentation by the grant maintained trust'; notes that the honourable Member for Stockton South has approached the Head of Norton School in Stockton North but ignored the Head of Bishopsgarth in his own constituency; notes too that this is an unsolicited initiative activated by an experienced honourable Member of this House in deliberate contravention of its code of honour which requires honourable Members seeking 'to take up a matter that affects another honourable Member's constituency to inform that honourable Member', Madam Speaker, Official Report, column 145, 9th June 1992; agrees with Madam Speaker's hope expressed on that occasion that her admonition 'is taken to heart by every honourable Member, whether new or of long-standing'; and calls on all honourable Members to desist forthwith in the interest of maintaining the good standards of behaviour in this House that have stood the test of honour throughout the centuries.] The early-day motion stands in my name and the names of 55 hon. Members. If the Leader of the House has not seen it, will he look at it? It refers to what, in my view, is a serious transgression of Members' privileges. Some hon. Members are interfering in the constituency affairs of other Members—a serious matter. This was not an isolated incident. In fact, Madam Speaker was required to make a statement on it only two days ago.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Education whether he had prior knowledge of this widespread practice? If he did, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State to apologise and redress the situation immediately? If the Secretary of State did not know, will the Leader of the House ask him to instruct or to require the Members responsible to desist forthwith so that the good standards of discipline that have stood the test of time can be maintained?

Mr. Newton

I have seen the early-day motion to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We are all aware of the longstanding convention that hon. Members do not take up constituency cases that arise in another Member's constituency, but I cannot make a judgment on whether the subject of this early-day motion is covered by that convention.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that an early statement is made about the setting up of the Social Security Select Committee? I understand that many hon. Members would like the chairmen of banks and financial institutions to come before the Social Security Select Committee and explain why they are sitting on Maxwell pensioners' investments. Moreover, there are 30,000 Maxwell pensioners out there who would like to hear explanations from the chairmen of the banks about when their investments will be released for their benefit.

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's point, and I hope that the Maxwell pensioners will have been encouraged by the response of one bank following the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services earlier this week.

On the question of Select Committees, I do not think that I can add to what I have said on a number of occasions.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

May we have an early debate on housing policy? That would provide an opportunity for Ministers to say whether they intend to allow local authorities, including Bradford, to use the cash from the sale of council houses to build new council houses with gardens—which so many people desperately want and deserve.

Mr. Newton

There was a debate on housing matters last Friday and there will be a further debate later in the Session when we consider the Bill to which I referred in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). I do not think that I can promise the insertion of a further debate in quite the way the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May I support my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) in calling for a debate on grant-maintained schools? We could then consider the remarkable progress made by such schools in Hanwell, Greenford, Ealing and Northolt in my constituency. In such a debate, could we take note of the amazing savings in such areas as school cleaning? One school is saving £40,000 a year and putting it straight to the benefit of children.

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's request, and his important points about the progress made in these matters in his constituency, and about the advantages of grant-maintained schools.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

Has the Leader of the House seen the reports about another 720 redundancies at British Aerospacee in the dynamics division at Blostock, Stevenage and Fulton? Those redundancies follow earlier job losses at British Aerospace. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—or the President of the Board of Trade or whatever he calls himself—to come to the House next week and make a statement on the future of this vital industry?

Mr. Newton

I have seen the reports to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the hon. Gentleman's request.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. We must move on to the statement.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that I do not hear points of order at this stage, but I shall certainly hear his point after the statement.