HC Deb 14 May 1992 vol 207 cc747-56 3.30 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Will the Leader of the House tell us the business for next week, please?

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

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

Dr. Cunningham

When we debate the European Communities (Amendment) Bill next week, will the Prime Minister speak on behalf of the Government? Is it the Government's intention to seek the suspension of the 10 o'clock rule on the first day of debate? When Second Reading is concluded, I urge the Leader of the House to agree that the Bill should be considered in Committee of the whole House.

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early statement from the Secretary of State for Employment, not only because of the appalling further and very sad increases in unemployment announced today, but because of the apparent threat, highlighted in the Financial Times today, to the future of the training and enterprise councils throughout the United Kingdom? Is it not really tragic that, in view of the level of unemployment and the already inadequate provision of training facilities, the future of the TECs seems so heavily at risk?

Mr. Newton

First, I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will open the debate on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill next Wednesday. Secondly, it is proposed to move a motion to allow the debate to continue after 10 o'clock on the first day. Thirdly, I can confirm that it will be proposed that the Committee stage of the Bill be taken on the Floor of the House. I am sure that that will have the general assent of the House.

On the hon. Gentleman's second set of questions, he will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said only a few minutes ago on training and on the unemployment figures. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. It might be of assistance to the House if I said something at this stage about the conduct of business questions, about which I have been concerned for some time.

The purpose of these questions is not to make the speech that hon. Members might hope to make later, or to obtain an instant ministerial reply. That is not the purpose of business questions. The purpose is to ask for a debate and to state briefly why that debate should be granted. The Leader of the House should not be asked questions about House matters; those should be put to him during his own question time.

I feel very firmly that, in fairness to others, only one subject should be raised per question, so that I can call as many hon. Members as possible. In that way, I hope that both questions and answers will be briefer than they have been in the past. I hope, too, that the House will trust my judgment when I believe that it is time to move on to our next business.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

As Maxwell pensioners have lost, and are losing, their pensions, will the Leader of the House make room next week for a debate so that the Government can make their position clear?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman had an opportunity, as he will well recall, to raise these matters during the recent debate on the Loyal Address, and he received a response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. He will have many opportunities next week, with debates on the Whitsun Adjournment and in other ways, to raise all sorts of matters.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

In the debate on Maastricht, how will we be able adequately to debate foreign policy questions? Does my right hon. Friend know when the treaty on foreign policy will be ratified under the Ponsonby rule? Is it the usual 21 days after it has been deposited on the Table of the House? If so, when does that period expire, and will we have a full debate at the same time as the opportunity to discuss the other contents of the Bill?

Mr. Newton

In response both to that question and to a point raised with you, Madam Speaker, yesterday afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), let me say that I have taken steps to examine the availability of relevant documents. My understanding is that all are available in the Vote Office, and I am taking further steps to ensure that adequate stocks are available to hon. Members.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

I refer the Leader of the House to early day motions 44 and 55.

[That this House, noting that the following 23 honourable and Right honourable Members for Torbay, Wanstead and Woodford, Dorset North, Harrogate, North West Norfolk, Holland with Boston, Upminster, Davyhulme, Romsey and Waterside, Epsom and Ewell, North Norfolk, Stroud, Fareham, Mid Bedfordshire, West Gloucestershire, Arundel, North Wiltshire, Colne Valley, Aldridge-Brownhills, Bosworth, Reading East, Westminster North, and Weston super Mare, are Lloyds names who have been in membership of syndicates which have suffered catastrophic losses totalling hundreds of millions of pounds, and could therefore face individual bankruptcy and disqualification, calls upon the President of the Board of Trade to institute a full public inquiry into insider dealing, financial mismanagement and corruption in Lloyds and to demand wholesale reform and independent regulation, bearing in mind that if even half these 23 colleagues of his are indeed declared bankrupt, the Government could lose its majority.]

Can he make time next week for an urgent debate on the crisis in the Lloyd's London insurance market? There is now clear evidence of insider dealing, fraud and financial mismanagement in Lloyd's. There is additional evidence that the council of Lloyd's, in discussion with the Department of Trade and Industry, is involved in an attempt, using institutional finance, to bail out Lloyd's names, including those who are Members of Parliament. Why will not the Government have a proper public inquiry and a proper Government statement for debate in the House, or are you involved in a cover-up to protect your own majority?

Madam Speaker

Order. I deprecate some of the language used in the House by hon. Members. Questions can be couched in far better terms than that.

Mr. Newton

Your deprecation, Madam Speaker, enables me to avoid deprecating that suggestion myself. I reject the hon. Gentleman's suggestion entirely. As he knows, there are a number of inquiries going on, and it would not help to institute yet another one.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Could my right hon. Friend arrange for us to have an early debate on armed forces matters? I am sure that the House knows very well that, arising from the "Options for Change" exercise, large numbers of changes are to be looked at, including the possibility that operational sea training in my constituency will be moved to another base. It would be helpful if we could have an early debate on these matters before the summer recess.

Mr. Newton

I will draw that request to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence but I might also, on this occasion, fall back on something on which I may fall back again in the course of business questions today. It is that, next week, there is to be a three-hour debate on the motion for the Whitsun Adjournment, and a number of timed debates on the Friday, and that will give hon. Members on both sides of the House many opportunities to raise matters.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Given that, in the week after next, there is a week's recess, can the Leader of the House tell us when, I hope in Government time, we shall have an important and necessary debate on the United Nations conference in Rio, the earth summit, which is starting at the beginning of June? Time for such a debate is running out. It should be held in Government time, but it is one that would be widely supported on both sides of the House.

Mr. Newton

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I have just given, but, furthermore, we have just had a six-day debate on the Loyal Address with a one-day debate on the environment.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

Will the Leader of the House provide time next week for an urgent debate on the scandalous decision by the Eastern health board to close 70 beds in the Bangor, Ards and Ulster hospitals, in addition to massive and drastic cuts imposed on those hospitals in the past 18 months? This decision will be detrimental to the people of North Down and cause massive unemployment among nurses and other staff. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a full and lengthy debate.

Mr. Newton

I do not think that I can promise a full and lengthy debate on that, in addition to the business already arranged for next week. I shall, however, ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is made aware of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Does not the Leader of the House appreciate the critical and urgent nature of the problems facing contributors to the Maxwell pension schemes? Having contributed throughout their lives, some of those people have been told that their cheques will be stopped, and other schemes are to be wound up. Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Government must make a statement next week, and tell us what lifeline they will offer people who are entirely blameless following a sorry and sordid episode?

Mr. Newton

As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, I am more than aware of the concerns and difficulties involved, having been Secretary of State for Social Security until about six weeks ago. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the current Secretary of State to what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel)

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that, given the deadline in respect of commission interest in the proposed takeover of the Midland bank, the House urgently needs to know the Government's thinking? The matter affects not only trade and employment but, perhaps critically, many aspects of foreign policy and our relations with Hong Kong.

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's views. He will be aware, however, that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is advised on such matters by the Office of Fair Trading. It would therefore not be appropriate for me to comment.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

The Leader of the House has said that documentation is already available for the debate on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill that is to take place on Wednesday and Thursday. I believe that we all have copies of the Maastricht treaty, which runs to 130-odd pages; but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, most of its contents take the form of amendments to the earlier treaties, and it is therefore extremely difficult to follow. Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that he has accepted the suggestion that was taken up yesterday by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen)—and, I believe, subscribed to by you, Madam Speaker—and ensure that a document of analysis, with legal interpretation, is also available?

Mr. Newton

I have already undertaken to ensure that all the relevant documents are available. I have a list of the available documents, and I shall try to ensure that it is appended to Hansard's report of the business statement. I did not read it out to the House because it would have taken rather a long time.

Sir James Spicer (Dorset, West)

My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the unhappiness felt by most people about the bunching of spring bank holidays. Easter Monday is followed by the May bank holiday, and then almost immediately by Whitsun. Will my right hon. Friend give the House an early opportunity to discuss the matter, and perhaps to consider moving the wretched May day bank holiday to October?

Mr. Newton

Let me start by observing wrily that, in my experience, many people welcome all these bank holidays. Leaving that aside, however, I think that I have enough problems at present without staging a debate on bank holidays.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I thank the Leader of the House for his reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). Can he assure us, however, that the list to which he referred will include a copy of the treaty of Rome as it will be if the treaty of union is approved? Is he aware that, in a reply given to me on 11 May—it can be found in column 25 of Hansard—his hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, implied that he had a copy of the treaty of Rome as it would be? So far, however, it has not been published. Surely it is a very relevant and necessary document.

Mr. Newton

For most normal purposes of debate in any forum of which I have been part, when a document has been subject to amendment we have examined both the document concerned and the amendments; but I note what the hon. Gentleman has said about my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and I shall try to establish the position with him.

Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)

Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me remind the House that I am a name at Lloyd's. In a more sober mood, I too wish to ask for a debate on Lloyd's. It is becoming clearer every day that there is evidence of Lloyd's having breached the Lloyd's Act 1982, and, in so doing, ruining many investors in the Lloyd's market. Will my right hon. Friend reflect soberly on the matter, and consider the possibility of a full-scale debate?

Mr. Newton

I thought that my hon. Friend put his point in an entirely serious and responsible way. I shall respond similarly by saying that I shall reflect upon what he said and draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion 40.

[That this House welcomes the book, To Encourage the Others, by David A. Yallop, calling for an independent public inquiry into the hanging of Derek Bentley in 1952; requests the Secretary of State for the Home Department to set up the inquiry as a matter of urgency; hopes that such a request will lead to a posthumous pardon; and feels that this will end a grave miscarriage of justice which leaves a permanent blot on the British judicial system—the hanging of an innocent man.]

It has been signed by 174 Members of all parties. This is the fourth Session in which I have tabled this motion. Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to make an early statement in the House in order to explain why the Home Office appears to be dragging its feet on this matter?

Mr. Newton

The Home Secretary has just been answering questions, but I presume that the hon. Gentleman did not get the chance to ask him this one. My right hon. and learned Friend is giving this case very careful consideration, and he will reach a decision as soon as possible on whether he thinks that any action on his part is called for.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is concern throughout the House about the appalling plight of those people who are going to inherit the poisonous legacy of that dreadful crook Maxwell? Can we please have a statement next week before the House rises?

Mr. Newton

I do not think that I can add to what I have already said, but I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 20 and the amendment?

[That this House calls for the immediate establishment of the departmental select committees so that Parliament can exercise its constitutional duty to hold Government to account and scrutinise its activities; and calls upon the House to ensure that in the future the establishment of select committees within one month of an election should become the duty of the Speaker under standing orders.]

I urge the Leader of the House to work with the usual channels to have those Select Committees set up so that we can start working when we return here after the spring Adjournment.

Mr. Newton

I note what the hon. Gentleman says and the contents of the letter that he wrote to me recently about the self-same matter. I think that he will understand that at this moment I cannot add to what I said in the debate on the Gracious Speech last night.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Regarding Monday's business, does my right hon. Friend agree that a politically driven timetable for the future of British Rail could have damaging consequences? As a matter of fact, can he tell me whether in parliamentary history there has ever been a case of a paving Bill for an industry being produced by a Government before the White Paper on the future of that industry had itself been produced?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend was kind enough to intimate that he might ask a question along these lines. In the intervening three quarters of an hour, I have been unable to discover an answer to his question. If there is no precedent, all that I can say is that there has to be a first time for everything.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

In view of the confusion over the Maastricht debate, will the Leader of the House consider postponing it and having a debate instead on the three reports from the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which have now been published—in one case over six months ago? As the Leader of the House knows, they concern the financial involvement of Select Committee chairmen and chairwomen and the new registration rules for Members which are recommended to this House, including the declaration of Lloyd's syndicates.

If those reports are allowed to gather dust for much longer without being debated, the suspicion will inevitably be engendered that the Tory Government are allowing Tory Members of Parliament to line their pockets through moonlighting, by ignoring recommendations from an all-party Committee that the rules should be tightened up to stop that moonlighting and pocket lining.

Mr. Newton

I sometimes think that, whatever we debated and did, the hon. Gentleman would still think that suspicion was being engendered. As for his question, I do not think that he will expect me to undertake to put off the debate on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. I shall obviously consider the rest of what he said with a view to deciding whether there is any response that. I can make—but certainly not next week.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I know that the Government share the concern of many hon. Members that some of the powers in the treaty of union they would not wish the European institutions to have. However, the Government say that we are protected by the principle of subsidiarity, which is in the treaty of union. This is a very important issue. Would it be possible for the Attorney-General to make a full statement to the House, before we debate the treaty, on the effect of the principle of subsidiarity and what it means? Furthermore, would it be possible for him to bring with him an opinion from a judge of the European Court of Justice, just to see whether he would have the same thing to say as the Attorney-General?

Mr. Newton

I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate on the rising levels of crime in, I think, every hon. Member's constituency? If he finds time for that debate, will he ask his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to explain why, when I have raised the issue in the House before, I have been assured by Ministers that there was access to inner-city initiatives to fight crime and to the urban fund, yet my constituency has been excluded from both?

Mr. Newton

I will take note of those comments and pass on appropriately the hon. Lady's wish to see Halifax included in the safer cities programme, which is helping a considerable number of places. Apart from that, I am beginning to feel as if I am being treated by the frustrated as an extension of Home Office Question Time.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

When will proposals be brought before us to implement the recommendations of the Jopling Committee on the future workings of the House?

Mr. Newton

I think that my hon. Friend knows—he certainly will if he was able to listen to my remarks last night in the debate on the Address—that we think that the first step is a debate in the new Parliament on the report as a whole. I hope to arrange time for that not too long after the recess.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on early-day motion 17 which relates to lady Kurdish hunger strikers?

[That this House recognises the right of those fleeing political persecution to safety; further recognises their right to family re-union; notes that 62 Kurdish-Alevi asylum seekers who arrived in Britain in 1989 from Turkey have been on hunger strike since 1st May for the right of family re-union after the determination of their application; and accordingly calls upon the Home Secretary urgently to review these cases and bring an end to the misery of these divided families.]

They are at present on hunger strike around London demanding the right of family reunion. They want their families to come from Turkey where they are suffering great danger. If this issue is not dealt with quickly, further suffering will occur. It is an urgent matter and I ask the Leader of the House to make some appropriate arrangements for the issue to be debated and to ask the Home Secretary to examine the cases urgently so that those poor people can come to this country and live in safety.

Mr. Newton

We are, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows, willing to consider representations in the cases of the 62 hunger strikers referred to. I shall ensure that the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is drawn to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week on the growing practice of hospitals charging for parking by visitors and others? That now includes Ealing hospital, where a charge of £10 for over six hours is to be levied. Could the debate be arranged so that I can ask a question about Ealing and ensure that there and elsewhere there is special free parking for those visiting people in intensive care and other vital categories, while not defending those who park in hospital car parks for their own purposes?

Mr. Newton

I imagine that my hon. Friend has taken up this matter with Ealing health authority. I shall ensure that it is drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. My hon. Friend may wish to raise this matter during one of the opportunities next week.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

When the Leader of the House sees his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, will he press upon him the necessity for an early statement next week on the plight of the Maxwell pensioners, bearing in mind that, in one Maxwell-owned company, 70 per cent. of the pension is being lost? There is desperate hardship and anxiety among those adversely affected by the dishonesty and crooked behaviour of Maxwell. I hope that it will be possible for such a statement to be made before the House rises for the recess because of the continuing hardship and anxiety of those to whom I have referred.

Mr. Newton

Once again, I cannot add to what I said earlier. However, I shall add the hon. Gentleman to the list of those whose representations I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Would it be possible, perhaps next week, or now if necessary, to place on record the appreciation of hon. Members on both sides of the House of the great service rendered to the House by the right hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Mr. Walker) as Chairman of Ways and Means? His work has been appreciated by all hon. Members.

Mr. Newton

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I should perhaps say that I sought to pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman last night at the beginning of my speech on the Address and I was struck by the warmth with which my remarks in that respect—although not in all others —were treated by the House.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

May I request the Leader of the House—following his previous reply—to ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement to the House on the proposed takeover of Midland bank by either Lloyds or the Hongkong and Shanghai bank? It is important not only to the bank's ordinary high street customers but to small businesses which want competition in loans and lending. It is also very important to many of my constituents who work at Midland bank's headquarters in Sheffield and who are unsure about their futures.

Mr. Newton

I shall indeed draw those remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Following the question asked by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), could the Leader of the House make a statement next week about the reappointment of the Select Committees? It is outrageous that rumours are going around that the Select Committees will not be established until October. They cost about £50,000 a week, and it would therefore cost the House more than £1 million if they were not re-established until October. They do very important work on the House's behalf.

Mr. Newton

As my hon. Friend is no doubt aware, I adverted to the matter in my speech last night in the debate on the Address, as did my opposite number, the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). We both made it absolutely clear that we hope that the Select Committees will be set up without undue delay.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House tell the President of the Board of Trade that it is high time he came here to the Dispatch Box to explain his conduct regarding Olympia and York and his dealings with it? That firm, which is £12 billion in debt, is just like the Maxwell empire of yesteryear, running from bank to bank to keep its head above water. Through the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Government are bailing it out. Instead of using £100 million to bail out a squalid company, they should be using the money to build houses for the homeless.

Mr. Newton

I do not think that I can promise the hon. Gentleman that I shall talk to my right hon. Friend in precisely those terms, but I shall draw his attention to what has been said.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

Just in case my right hon. Friend has not got the mood of the House, may I underline all the pleas for a statement on the Maxwell affair? He himself came before the Select Committee to give evidence several weeks ago and he knows the questions that are uppermost in the minds of those of us who serve on the Committee. One of those questions involves the plight of a particular group of pensioners, those who worked for, and in some cases still work, for British International Helicopters, which was sold into the clutches of Maxwell when the Government refused to endorse a management buy-out of the British Airways helicopter division. Therefore, the Government have a special responsibility to those pensioners. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that and do something about it?

Mr. Newton

Noted, of course. That enables me to add one word on the matter, which is that the Government will —rightly—be responding to the Select Committee's report in due course.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to make a statement next week on the future organisation and funding of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service? As the Leader of the House will know, UKIAS provides advice and representation for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities—including divided families—and it also employs a number of people in offices throughout the country. Will he ensure that no final decisions are taken on funding by the Home Office unless and until the Home Secretary has consulted the House?

Mr. Newton

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take careful note of the hon. Gentleman's views as expressed in the last moment or two.

[The following documents relating to the Treaty on European Union should be available in the Vote Office for the Second Reading debate on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill:

  • Treaty of Rome, as amended by the Single European Act (Cm 455);
  • Treaty on European Union (Cm 1934);
  • Foreign Affairs Committee Report on "Europe After Maastricht", Volumes I and II (Report and Evidence: HC 223);
  • Observations by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on the FAC Report "Europe After Maastricht" (Cm 1965);
  • White Paper on Developments in the European Community, July-December 1991 (Cm 1857);
  • White Paper on Development in the European Community, January-June 1991 (Cm 1657);
  • Report by House of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation on the 1991–1992 Session, including an analysis of the Treaty on European Union by the Committee's Legal Adviser ( to be published by HMSO on 14 May: HC 24-xv).
  • Third Report from the Health Committee on the European Community and Health Policy. ( HC 180 );
  • Minutes of Evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 5, 12 and 26 February 1992 on Migration Control at the External Borders of the European Community. (HC 215);
  • Minutes of Evidence taken before the Treasury and Civil Service Committee on Economic and Monetary Union. (HC 285);
  • Fourth Special Report from the Treasury and Civil Service Committee on European Community Finances. (HC 334);
  • European Communities Act, 1972;
  • European Communities (Amendment) Act, 1986;
  • European Parliamentary Elections Act, 1978.]