HC Deb 05 November 1992 vol 213 cc411-23 3.31 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

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)

The business for next week will be as follows:


Second Reading of the Education Bill.

WEDNESDAY II NOVEMBER—Proceedings on the Maintenance Orders (Reciprocal Enforcement) Bill [Lords]

Motion on the Registered Homes (Northern Ireland) Order.

THURSDAY I2 NOVEMBER—Debate on the Adoption Law Review on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY I3 NovEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY I6 NovEMBER—Second Reading of the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet on Wednesday 11 November at 10.30 am to consider European Community document No. 6224/92 relating to culture in the European Community.

[Wednesday 11 November

European Standing Committee B

Relevant European Community Document

6224/92 Culture in the European Community.

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee HC 79-i (1992–93 ) and HC 79-viii ( 1992–93)]

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the Leader of the House for that statement.

Can the right hon. Gentleman add anything to the statement made by the Prime Minister yet again at Prime Minister's Question Time as to when exactly it is planned to bring the Committee stage of the Maastricht Bill back to the House? Can the Leader of the House say anything to cast any light on the contradiction between the assurance that the Prime Minister gave to the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) last night and the Prime Minister's statement today that the Third Reading would not need to be until the summer and what was said yesterday about the urgent need for yesterday's debate? Does it not show that the only urgency about yesterday's debate was the Prime Minister's urgent need to shore up his battered Government and that the only interest served was that of the Conservative party and not that of the nation?

When can we expect the social security uprating statement? Will the Leader of the House bear it in mind that if, as has been widely trailed, the statement contains an attack on the living standards of many of the most vulnerable people in society, the House will want a full day's debate on the issues raised in that statement and not merely half a day, as has been the practice recently.

Finally, will the Leader of the House find time soon for a debate on financial institutions, so that the House can consider the growing calls for statutory regulation of the City and the inadequate service provided by many high street banks and building societies in the light of the Consumers Association report today which states that their service sometimes amounts to "monumental incompetence"?

Mr. Newton

Taking those matters in reverse order, there is to be a debate tomorrow on the Bingham report when some aspects of financial institutions will be relevant. Unusually, as I have already said, there will be a debate early after the autumn statement in which it might be possible to advert to some of those matters, so I cannot promise a separate debate in response to the hon. Lady.

The social security uprating statement will certainly be made as soon as possible. I hope that that will prove to be the case next week. As to the question of a debate, perhaps we can consider that through the usual channels when the hon. Lady has had a chance to consider the statement. She will be well aware that legislative action, at least of a secondary kind, is normally required by social security uprating statements, which would naturally provide a focus for debate.

On the timing of yesterday's debate, I must advert to the fact that it took place in response to persistent requests from Her Majesty's Opposition. When it took place, it turned out that its main purpose had to be to overcome the Opposition desire to delay considering the Bill at all, despite their alleged commitment to Maastricht. There is no contradiction between the various reports that have been referred to, but I certainly cannot add to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's comments a few moments ago on the timing of the Bill's progress. I can fill them out in one respect: I said some weeks ago that I expected to begin to make some progress on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill after the autumn statement and the debate that I have promised on it.

Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)

Has my right hon. Friend read early-day motion 733 on the Accommodation and Works Committee's proposal to move Members and their secretaries from 7 Old Palace Yard to 7 Millbank?

[That this House rejects the decision of the Accommodation and Works Committee to recommend transferring honourable Members and honourable Members' secretaries from 7 Old Palace Yard to 7 Millbank; deplores the fact that this decision was taken without any consultation with honourable Members most affected and that the Committee having reached a decision in July failed to inform honourable Members of it until October; believes it would be inefficient and a waste of honourable Members' and secretaries' time for secretaries or honourable Members to have to walk back and forth from offices in Millbank to offices in the House—a journey in some cases of half an hour; notes that the House of Lords is nearer to Millbank than the House of Commons; does not believe an expenditure of some £3 million on refurbishing accommodation for non-office holders in the House of Lords, who do not have to deal with constituency mail is appropriate at this present time when public expenditure generally is being severely curtailed; and calls on the Government to delay transferring honourable Members and honourable Members' secretaries from Old Palace Yard until alternative accommodation is provided in the Phase II development.]

In view of the fact that that has now been signed by all Members concerned other than Ministers—indeed, some Ministers are also concerned about the matter—and that apparently no consultation took place and the Committee seems to feel that it is not accountable, can we debate the matter next week?

Mr. Newton

I very much take note of my right hon. Friend's comments and I am sure that they will be carefully taken into account by the Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee for whom, as he says, this is a matter.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the normal rules on Opposition supply days will apply? As the House knows, the official Opposition have about 20 days at their disposal, and the minority parties have only three between them. Given the peculiar political circumstances that we are in, we would be interested in choosing subject matter for discussion in the House.

Mr. Newton

I was not absolutely sure whether the hon. Gentleman was asking me to review the conventions that govern such matters, which I would be unwise to undertake without discussions through the usual channels, or whether he simply sought the allocation of a supply day for the minority parties, which I shall certainly bear in mind. Obviously, I cannot make one available next week, and it is likely that we shall be looking for time to debate the autumn statement in the week after that. I do not, however, dismiss his concern and I shall keep it in mind.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Given that during the summer the Government accepted the vast bulk of the report of the Select Committee on Sittings of the House, will the Leader of the House be able next week to lay the amended orders to enact those recommendations? If not, will he give an undertaking that they will be laid soon?

Mr. Newton

A week or two ago I said that I was seeking to identify a basis for discussion through the usual channels with the aim of being in a position to bring forward substantive motions at an early stage. I do not think that I can go beyond that at the moment. My right hon. Friend will realise that there have been one or two of what I shall delicately call other preoccupations recently, but I hope to make progress as soon as possible. Meanwhile, I hope that one or two things that I have done, including giving more advance indications of business than has been customary in the past, have at least been helpful to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the growing concern in all parts of the House for the miners and others who can benefit from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council's report on compensation for occupational emphysema and bronchitis? Is he aware of the Department of Trade and Industry's memorandum which argues that the longer the Government delay, the less they will have to pay? That, of course, is due to the high death rate among people with occupational emphysema and bronchitis. Is that any way to talk about people, many of whom often have to struggle to breathe? May we have a ministerial statement next week about the Government's intentions?

Mr. Newton

I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman who has previous experience as a Minister with responsibility for disabled people, which I share, is well aware of the difficulties and complexities of many of these matters and reports. I cannot add to what I said last week, when the issue was raised in somewhat similar terms. I expect an announcement about publication to be made shortly by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. I know that both he and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People will be giving careful consideration to those matters.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

My right hon. Friend has announced that the trade union Bill is to be considered on Monday week. He will be aware of the various peculiar answers given by a Minister on Tuesday about wages councils.

I have had a number of written questions answered and have as yet failed to have a meeting with the Secretary of State on the issue, despite having been asking for several months.

Will it be possible before Monday week to obtain some estimate from Government of whether that measure will have a significant effect on the pay of some people at present protected by wages councils and on employment, which some would doubt?

Mr. Newton

I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. My hon. Friend will no doubt have noted what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on the matter in an exchange during Question Time. My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to ask his questions and make his views known during the Second Reading debate, which was announced in my business statement.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

Will the Leader of the House make arrangements for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a further statement on the position of the 10 pits, when he could take the opportunity to answer a report by a professional mining engineer which I submitted to him a week last Monday and which demonstrated that the Taf Merthyr pit would be closed within three or four days? Will the right hon. Gentleman bring the Secretary of State to the House to make a statement on that vital issue?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend will have looked carefully at the remarks that the hon. Gentleman made last week. My right hon. Friend answered questions in the House yesterday and has seen the Select Committee. I cannot promise a further appearance by the President of the Board of Trade in that context, but I shall once again make sure that he is aware of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Although my right hon. Friend did not say so, will he confirm that we are to have the autumn statement next week? Secondly, will he consult or help the usual channels on both sides to arrange for the setting up of the Procedure Committee? A number of matters awaiting consideration have been referred to me and it is about time that we got on with that.

Mr. Newton

I note the latter part of my hon. Friend's suggestion. I suppose that I should have played the familiar Front Bench trick of announcing good news for the second time in the hope of obtaining additional good will. As I announced some time ago, the autumn statement is expected to be made on Thursday 12 November.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

As the Government are now keen to accede to the Opposition's request for a debate, will the right hon. Gentleman explain why no opportunity has yet been provided for us to discuss the crisis facing the fishing industry? I raised the matter with him last week and I met representatives of the fishing communities last weekend. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the sense of bitterness, resentment and anger that is building up is such that we must, as a matter of urgency, debate the common fisheries policy and its implications for our communities?

Mr. Newton

I made some comments about the matter to the hon. Lady last week, as she rightly says. I will again draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the hon. Lady's remarks. I cannot promise a debate now, but she will have heard what I said to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) about the question of supply days for minority parties. I cannot add to that, but I meant what I said and I will try to be helpful as soon as I reasonably can.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

In view of the increasingly desperate plight of the Muslims in Bosnia, particularly with the onset of winter, and to highlight the courageous efforts made by the Cheshire Regiment in providing food and supplies to those who desperately need them, may we have a debate next week to discuss what else the British Government, as President of the Community, can do to end what seems to be a systematic attempt at the extermination of the Muslims in Yugoslavia by the Croats and the Serbs?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise a debate next week, but I can promise to bear my hon. Friend's interest in mind. He may find it possible to ask a question after the statement that the Home Secretary is about to make.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

When will the House have an opportunity to debate the extraordinary and damaging decision of the chairman of English Heritage to dispose of and flog off a large proportion of English Heritage properties?

Mr. Newton

I have received a number of requests for a debate on that matter, which I shall continue to bear in mind; I will add the hon. Gentleman's name to the list.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Will it be possible for the House to receive a statement next week on the European fighter aircraft? Is my right hon. Friend aware that thousands of people in my constituency work for British Aerospace and that many of them came to the House last week to lobby? Morale among them is extremely low. Indeed, every time they open their newspapers they feel deep concern about the future of their jobs, especially when they read first that the Germans are in on the project, then that they are out, then in again, and then that the Spanish and Italians are thinking about whether to be in or out. Those workers backed us during the Gulf war by working many hours of overtime. We owe them some certainty about the future of their jobs.

Mr. Newton

I cannot, under present circumstances, promise a statement, but my hon. Friend knows—and, I am sure, accepts—that the Secretary of State for Defence is very concerned about those matters and is discussing with our partners whether the options presented to us offer a basis on which the four nations might continue to collaborate.

Ms. Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for us to debate early-day motion 668, which deals with the uncertainty of Rosyth royal dockyard?

[That this House notes with concern reports that the Government in considering closing one of the two remaining naval dockyards at Rosyth and Devonport; notes that the closure of either dockyard would mean the loss of several thousand jobs in the defence industry and supporting businesses; notes that both dockyards have been successful in diversifying into other commercial activities whilst improving efficiency in their core defence business; and therefore calls on the Government to consider all possible means, including, if necessary, a single combined management, by which a way can be found to keep both dockyards open and preserve at least some of the jobs dependent on them.] Will he also ask the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement about the future of the dockyard?

Mr. Newton

That matter was raised with me last week. Various proposals concerning the dockyards are very much under consideration. No decisions have yet been made about the future arrangements for dockyard management, and I am afraid that I cannot add anything further on the subject today.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Before the debate next week on the Education Bill, will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the Secretary of State for Education that we hope that he will take powers, either in that Bill or later, to prevent the obstructive and intimidatory approach being taken by many local authorities against the governors and parents of schools which wish to become grant-maintained?

Mr. Newton

I affirm that the Government regard it as quite unacceptable for local education authorities to intimidate, or seek to intimidate, parents or anybody else into voting against grant-maintained status. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Education will make every effort to prevent any such occurrence.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Can we have a Government response next week to early-day motion 736, condemning the Duke of Atholl for trying to deprive ordinary people of their rights of access to the Scottish countryside?

[That this House condemns the decision of the Duke of Athol! to challenge the status of the Minigaig Pass as a right of way; notes that the route is one of Scotland's ancient mountain drove roads which has been used by the people of Scotland for centuries and is still regularly used by hill walkers and mountain climbers with no evidence of resultant damage to the countryside or wild-life; is concerned that a loss of right of way status for the Minigaig Pass could endanger similar rights of way throughout Scotland; deplores the anachronism whereby the Duke of Atholl is the only person in the United Kingdom with a private army; fully supports all walkers who refuse to be intimidated and exercise their rights of access to the Minigaig Pass; and calls upon the Government to take all necessary steps to ensure that the access rights of walkers are not reduced in any way by the Duke of Atholl or any other militant members of the landed gentry who claim too much of Scotland's land which should be part of the national heritage.]

Will the Leader of the House show his respect for the House that he leads and the people whom we represent by joining me in a walk through Minigaig pass to assert the rights of the common people against the rapacious, militant landowners who frequent the House of Lords?

Mr. Newton

Pleasing—I think—as the prospect of a country walk with the hon. Gentleman is, I am not sure whether I can promise an early visit to Scotland for the purpose.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week on early-day motion 746, which draws attention to the fact that Clarke Foods, formerly Lyons Maid, in my constituency has recently closed —putting 108 people out of work, some of whom have worked there for more than 40 years, and one man for 48 years?

[That this House notes with great concern that the Clarke Food ( UK) Limited works in Greenford, which were formerly Lyons Maid, have been put into administrative receivership and that 108 employees have been made redundant; notes with further concern that Clarke Foods have reneged on assurances given over redundancy payments at the time when they acquired the plant; expresses strong support for former Lyons Maid workers who transferred to Clarke Foods,. come of whom have worked on the site for over 40 years and who have been told that there will be no redundancy payments for them; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to investigate the fairness and legality of the situation in which the said employees and ex-employees are now placed.]

Those employees' jobs have gone without pensions because of what appears to be maladministration by Clarke Foods. Can we have an early debate on that matter so that I can seek help for my constituents who need it?

Mr. Newton

I well understand my hon. Friend's concern, which is typical of his concern for his constituents. I understand that the redundancy payments service has received 95 claims for statutory redundancy payments and a number of other claims in connection with those problems, and that those claims are being processed as quickly as possible. I hope to reinforce that by drawing my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Welsh Grand Committee, which used to meet five or six times a year, has not met for almost nine months? In view of the numerous problems facing the people of Wales in terms of the economy, pit closures, unemployment, the future of the education service and many others, will he tell the House whether the Committee has at last been finally abandoned as a useless talking shop? If so, what alternative bodies will he give Wales to discuss our vital issues?

Mr. Newton

I am not quite sure whether the hon. Gentleman is denouncing the body or demanding a meeting of it. Whichever it is, I shall try to ensure that there is some contact with him through the usual channels.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

When my right hon. Friend has completed his walk through the ducal pastures of Scotland, will he try to walk the plebeian route across the bridges of the River Thames in London and then come back and let us know when we can have a debate on transport in London? We need to see how three London boroughs can close three bridges at the same time and whether the Government need to take powers to ensure that traffic and transport in London is better co-ordinated.

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport may wish to look at some of those observations without my even drawing them to his attention, but I shall try to ensure that he sees them. On the further request for me to go walkabout in various parts of the country, I shall try to put those in ranking order as between Scotland and Battersea.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

With reference to the elusive memorandum concerning the Danish decision, is the Leader of the House aware that it did not contain the important statement of Herr Klaus Kinkel, Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic, writing in Die Welton 19 October? The article said that that decision was arbitrarily a halt to a healthy, historic growth process". Would it not be a good thing for the Government to dissociate themselves from such a point of view in that memorandum or any other? Will he ensure that memoranda which should be literally placed on the Table or in the Vote Office are advertised and not just semi-surreptitiously put in the Library?

Mr. Newton

I think that I can safely assure the hon. Gentleman that there was no surreptitious intent. If he has specific practical suggestions as to how the handling of such matters can be improved, all my right hon. Friends and I would be ready to consider them. On the proposal that such memoranda should include a commentary on every observation anywhere in Europe about which we might have reservations, such memoranda would be very long indeed.

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)

Would my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of a debate next week on the British tourist industry, which is one of the most important industries in our country? It contributes as much as aerospace or the motor manufacturing industries, providing 6 per cent. of employment in this country, but from researches in the Library—it was fairly crowded— I understand that the subject was last discussed four years ago.

Mr. Newton

That is another request that I shall very much bear in mind, but I shall have to fall back on the standard reply: I do not anticipate finding time next week.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement to the House next week? I ask that because of the answer given to me yesterday, reported in Hansard at column 271, when I asked about the future of Tursdale workshop in my constituency. I was told by the Minister that he was concerned about the issue but that the closure of the workshop and redundancies there were not the subjects of the review. I am led to believe that, even while the Minister was speaking yesterday, British Coal announced 60 redundancies in that workshop. I should be grateful if the Minister would make a statement to the House on that.

Mr. Newton

I will draw the issue to the attention of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will my right hon. Friend consider letting us have a debate on the postal service, as we could then refer to the fact that first-class post has the highest ever figures for reliability and there is to be a freeze on postal rates? Is that not an example of the quality of services under the Government?

Mr. Newton

I am glad to have a more friendly message to communicate to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Members' interests?

Mr. Newton

We shall obviously have to have a standard question and standard reply exchange—the hon. Gentleman will say, "A" and I will say, "B". I am considering the matter, but I am not yet in a position to give the hon. Gentleman definite information.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

When will the Leader of the House make a statement about the plight of disabled people who come to the House of Commons to lobby? This week more than 100 people came from north Derbyshire to Westminster hall, where it was cold and draughty. Some 30 of them were in wheelchairs and could not use the toilet facilities. In addition, they could not use the Grand Committee Room as they were incapable of climbing the 30 stairs. The right hon. Gentleman has made promises before, and it is high time that when people come to lobby at Westminster those who are disabled should be given preference. Many promises have been made during the 22 years that I have been here—it is time somebody did something about this. I am asking the Leader of the House to do something, not just for the 100 people who came, but for the thousands who have come in the past and who should have the same rights as able-bodied people when they come to lobby Members of Parliament.

Mr. Newton

In view of the hon. Gentleman's phrasing, may I say that I do not recall making promises of the sort that he mentioned since acquiring my present responsibilities. However, I need hardly say that I shall take the matter seriously—not least because, as I said to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), I have been Minister with responsibility for disabled people and I am aware of the problems and concerns. The hon. Gentleman will know that, under the new structure set up in recent years to administer the House, I should properly refer the matter to the Accommodation and Works Committee, but that is not to say that I wash my hands of it. I shall certainly see if there is any way in which I can encourage or facilitate improvements of the sort that the hon. Gentleman wants.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the growing problem of low pay? Is he aware that in Halifax today some of the very few jobs on offer pay the following low rates: a care assistant in a private home £2.50 an hour; a cleaner in a store, £2.45 an hour; a trainee hairdresser, £35 a week? Would not the Government be better employed looking at the problem of low pay rather than abolishing some of the few organisations which protect low-paid workers, such as the wages councils? Does the Leader of the House really want us to become the sweatshop of Europe?

Mr. Newton

It would be wrong for me to enter into a prolonged exchange on economics with the hon. Lady, but I should state that forcing up wage levels can easily lead to fewer jobs. No one debating these issues could or should dismiss that. I well understand that there are many potentially complicated arguments about the matter, and it is clear that the hon. Lady will have an opportunity, should she catch the Chair's eye, to make that sort of point on Second Reading of the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill, which I announced at the beginning of these exchanges.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)

When will we have an opportunity to discuss opencast mining? We are awaiting a statement on the withdrawal or revision of minerals planning guidance note No. 3, and we are anxious that it should be withdrawn. We would like to know whether this matter will be considered in the context of other announcements on coal. This is a matter of considerable anxiety in many constituencies, as four early-day motions testify. People are worried that many people in those constituencies will lose their jobs because of the closure of the deep mines and will face the rape of their countryside because of the continuation of opencast mining. May we discuss that?

Mr. Newton

I cannot predict the timing of any further debates on the issues included in the review of the closures being undertaken by the President of the Board of Trade. The hon. Gentleman will know of the undertakings that have been given. It would certainly be surprising if he did not have a chance to raise some of his points in the course of the review or subsequent debates on it.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

Can the Leader of the House find time time for a debate on the future of the aerospace industry, in the course of which we can discuss the future of the European fighter aircraft project and the Superb executive jet's long-term future? Does he know that my constituents formed part of a lobby last week when people came in their thousands from all over Britain to show that they were deeply worried about the industry? May we have a debate on the future of this large and important manufacturing industry?

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Gentleman's request, which ties in with a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). I am afraid that I cannot promise a debate next week.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May we have a debate soon on inequality in British society? I draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to early-day motion 730.

[That this House is shocked by the revelation that Richard Branson paid no tax on his £229 million capital gain in selling the Virgin Music Group to Thorn EMI; notes that he used tax havens in Jersey and Guernsey to avoid a United Kingdom tax bill of £92 million; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to effectively close this tax loophole which is losing the United Kingdom over £4 billion a year.] It draws the attention of the House to the fact that Richard Branson paid no tax on his £229 million worth of capital gains from selling Virgin Music Group to Thorn EMI. What sort of obscene Government allow a multimillionaire like Branson to avoid a tax bill of £92 million while the same Government are proposing to abolish wages councils which protect people who earn as little as £2.50 an hour?

Mr. Newton

If the linkage that the hon. Gentleman believes he has established stands up, at least in his own mind, he will have the opportunity to make the point in the debate in 10 days' time.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. If hon. Members ask questions which meet the criteria for business questions, I will try to call all hon. Members who are standing. I ask them to be brief and to the point.

Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles)

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 727?

[That this House believes that the report by Lord Justice Bingham shows the Bank of England to have been negligent in its supervisory duty to protect British depositors with BCCI; notes that this is not a matter of hindsight, for, as Bingham shows, as early as 1979 the Bank 'was not only entitled but obliged to refuse a licence' to BCCI, (paragraph 2.30) but granted one anyway; notes that in 1984 the then Governor approved a plan to incorporate BCCI in the United Kingdom in order to regulate it more effectively but that the bank failed to carry this policy through when it encountered resistance from BCCI, and that the Bank 'was rather easily deterred' ( 2.46); notes that from 1985 the Bank shied away from taking the lead supervisory role over BCCI and thus accepeted 'a highly unsatisfactory supervisory situation as should have been obvious at the time' ( 2.57); notes that by 1986, adequate grounds existed to revoke or to impose conditions upon BCCI's licence and that in their failure to exercise their powers, 'the supervisors tended to lose sight of their primary duty to protect the bank's United Kingdom depositors' ( 2.67 ); notes that on this occasion and subsequently, 'the Bank failed to measure up to the task' ( 2.72); notes that on several occasions in the 1980's the Bank failed to make the enquiries that a 'rigorous supervisor' ought to have done (2.162 ); believes that the ultimate responsibility for this damning catalogue of errors resides with the Governor; and concludes that for him to continue to cling to his position leaves him with neither credibility nor honour.]

It condemns the Bank of England's negligence over the Bank of Credit and Commerce International and calls for the resignation of the Governor. Can the Leader of the House assure us that tomorrow's debate will not be the last opportunity to discuss this vital issue, and that if the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee produces a new report we shall have time to debate the issue again?

Mr. Newton

I cannot give any undertakings beyond the fact that, as is well known, there are mechanisms whereby Select Committee reports can be debated if that is thought sensible. We would want to judge that when we see the report. I think that I was pretty good to arrange a debate on Bingham as quickly after the report as I did.

Ms. Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

Further to the reply that the right hon. Gentleman gave a few moments ago, will he give us his personal assurance that he will put disability access on the agenda of the next Accommodation and Works Committee meeting?

Mr. Newton

I do not think that I can—I am not even a member of the Committee, let alone its Chairman—but I can safely assure the hon. Lady that her request will be noted by the Chairman, to whose attention I will make sure that it is drawn.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Will the Leader of the House persuade the President of the Board of Trade to indemnify private factories which have to pay £1 more per tonne for imported coal than they paid for Grimethorpe coal before that colliery was closed?

Mr. Newton

Once again I have to say that I will communicate the matter to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Further to the call by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) for an early debate on the lines suggested in early-day motion 733, which has been signed by hon. Members who have their offices or those of their secretaries in 7 Old Palace yard, may I tell the Minister—as one who dices with death at least a dozen times daily crossing Millbank—that an examination of the poll tax records of Westminster council for 1606 reveals that a Mr. Catesby and a Mr. G. Fawkes lived at 7 Old Palace yard. I understand that the G stood for Guy. The right hon. Gentleman should stop the Select Committee on Accommodation and Works spending £3 million refitting those premises and instead put in a tunnel under the road. If he does that, we promise not to use it for the purpose for which such a tunnel was used by Mr. Fawkes.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for the assurance at the end of the hon. Gentleman's question. I genuinely note his request, as I genuinely noted the request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins).

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

After last night's Divisions, the Leader of the House will be painfully aware of the importance of every single vote. Is he aware that at the recent general election almost 2 million people were missing from the electoral register and that the information about that is hidden in the Commons Library? May we have a debate about the electoral register and on the action to be taken to get everyone's name on it so that there is a full franchise for the election which may be held in the near future because of the situation in the House?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman should not pin his hopes on the last part of his question. I am in the happy position of having the Home Secretary, who is the Minister responsible for electoral registration matters, sitting close by. I therefore do not need to draw the point to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention because he will have heard it.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

In preparing for the business on Monday 16 November, will the Leader of the House ask his colleagues to reflect on the importance placed on collective bargaining by General Motors, which yesterday opened its magnificent new ECOTEC engine plant? Will he ensure that no attacks on such bargaining processes are included in legislation? While he is speaking to his colleagues, will he also reflect on why no member of the Government was present at such an important event?

Mr. Newton

I am certainly not in a position to answer the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, hut I know from experience, albeit not in that Department, that there are more requests for Ministers—and perhaps for you, Madam Speaker—to attend functions than they can possibly fulfil. The earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question raises the danger of staging a forerunner of the debate which is to be held in 10 days, so I shall simply refer the hon. Gentleman to that debate.

Mr. Jimmy Boyce (Rotherham)

Will the Leader of the House, who is a compassionate man, make time next week for a debate on cold weather payments? I have asked for such a debate before, and I ask this compassionate Minister once again to arrange a debate before the onslaught of winter.

Mr. Newton

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that there will be such a debate next week. However, his hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) asked about the social security uprating statement which I said that I expected before long. During the making of that statement, or in a debate which might follow in due course, the hon. Gentleman will have a good opportunity to raise that matter.