HC Deb 15 April 1993 vol 222 cc949-58 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)

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

  • MONDAY 19 APRIL—European Communities (Amendment) Bill: progress in Committee, 21st day.
  • TUESDAY 20 APRIL—Opposition day (11th allotted day). There will be a debate described as "Bringing stability to the nation's schools" on an Opposition motion.
  • Proceedings on the Charities Bill [Lords], the Clean Air Bill [Lords], and the Radioactive Substances Bill [Lords], all of which are consolidation measures.
  • Motion on the Financial Provisions (Northern Ireland) Order.
  • WEDNESDAY 21 APRIL—European Communities (Amendment) Bill: progress in Committee, 22nd day.
  • THURSDAY 22 APRIL—European Communities (Amendment) Bill: progress in Committee, 23rd day.
  • FRIDAY 23 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.
  • MONDAY 26 APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. Does he recall that on several occasions lately we have pressed him for the defence estimates debate—a debate which has not been held for two years? He will recall that just before the recess the issue was raised with him at business questions. That was most unfortunately followed speedily by the Ministry of Defence publishing a written answer in which some redundancies from the Navy were announced. The conjunction of a request for a Navy day debate and the defence estimates debate with such an announcement was most marked and will cause great anger on both sides of the House, so may I remind the Leader of the House of the need for both debates?

May I also remind the Leader of the House that we still have no undertaking from him or his colleagues about the debate on public expenditure. The issue to which my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) has just drawn attention—the forecast of the emergence of a twin deficit, with growing deterioration of the trade gap—highlights the implications of public expenditure and makes the need for that debate all the more urgent.

May I further press the Leader of the House for a full foreign affairs debate, in the light not only of the situation in Bosnia, apart from the military implications, but of the deteriorating situation in South Africa? May I remind him also that we seek a debate in Government time on the stocktaking in Scotland.

Mr. Newton

Hon. Members have become familiar recently with that type of long shopping list from the right hon. Lady. She did not add the only one that I have been able to meet this week, which is the demand for an Opposition Supply day. Given that I have again proved my desire to be helpful, by putting that in the programme for next week, I hope the right hon. Lady accepts that I remain anxious to be as helpful as I can on as many as possible of the subjects that she raised. But I cannot hold out the immediate prospect of providing everything she wants.

I note particularly the point the right hon. Lady made about the defence estimates, although I assure her that there was nothing sinister in the coincidence of the different statements to which she referred.

On the subject of public expenditure, I reiterate the point that I have made several times, that, as I announced today, we are about to embark on debating the Finance Bill. I imagine that some of the issues that she has in mind will, subject to the decision of the Chair, be in order in the course of those debates.

Sir John Hannam (Exeter)

Will my right hon. Friend find time soon for a further debate on the social chapter so as to expose the sham of the position of the Labour party and those who claim that the social chapter would be good for British business?

Mr. Newton

The House will be aware that the Chairman of Ways and Means has provisionally selected new clause 75 to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, which provides for just such a debate as my hon. Friend is seeking on the social chapter, following the passage of the Bill. In view of what my hon. Friend said, it may be sensible for me to announce that the Government think that a debate of that kind would be a sensible proposition. It may be helpful for me to say that, if that debate takes place, as may happen next week, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will indicate the Government's willingness to accept that new clause.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Despite the desire of the House occasionally for masochism, if, as seems possible, next week's debate in Committee on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill finishes before the end of Thursday, will the Leader of the House consider providing time to debate whether we should support or oppose the European Community proposal for a carbon tax, given that Energy and Environment Ministers will meet on Friday of next week?

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Gentleman's request. I cannot promise to accede to it should the contingency arise, but I look forward to his help, which I took was implied in his question, in making sure that rapid progress is made on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

In view of the fact that the most serious of all European events at present is taking place in the Balkans and that we have never had a full day's debate in Government time devoted exclusively—I choose my words carefully—to the war in the Balkans, may I ask my right hon. Friend to think again and provide a day next week, or at least firmly promise a day the week after?

Mr. Newton

I am afraid that I cannot give that specific promise, though it is fair for me to remind my hon. Friend, whose concern in these matters is well known, that I have on at least one occasion that he will remember well—perhaps that is why he was choosing his words carefully—gone out of my way to provide him with a substantial opportunity to take part in a debate on those matters. Also, I readily arranged yesterday with the Secretary of State for Defence for a full statement on Bosnia, which again gave my hon. Friend an opportunity to give some of the important views that he holds on the subject.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Will the Leader of the House find time for the House to discuss the powers of the DSS, especially to provide children with grants for school uniforms? I ask that in the light of the position in Wolverhampton, where the right hon. Gentleman's Conservative colleagues running the council have found in necessary, despite spending at the cap, to withdraw grants from children in need. Requests referred to the DSS have been refused because the DSS says that it does not have power to make such grants. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that state of affairs ill becomes the Conservative party's view of Britain being at ease with itself? It smacks more of words than actions.

Mr. Newton

The Secretary of State for Social Security will be answering questions within the span of the statement to which I referred—on Monday 26 April—and I shall draw his attention to the fact that the hon. Gentleman may have a point to raise with him.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the appropriate Minister to make a statement to the House about tendering procedures in the national health service? Is he aware that, in Macclesfield, Mediguard Services Ltd. has lost its contract to Pall Mall Services Group Ltd. and that as a result, due apparently to some EC regulation, the employees of Mediguard are being denied their rightful redundancy pay, and some have been taken on by the new contractor at lower rates of pay? Is that the caring face of Conservatism in which we on this side of the House believe?

Mr. Newton

I am sure that my hon. Friend does not expect me to comment off the cuff on the circumstances that he described, but I will bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

If the Committee stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill is completed before the commencement of business next Thursday, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that the Report proceedings will not commence without a proper interval after the completion of the Committee stage?

Mr. Newton

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's question interrelates with that asked earlier by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). If the European Communities (Amendment) Bill completes its Committee stage on Wednesday, it is rather unlikely that I would expect it to proceed to Report on Thursday.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on remedies available to the courts for the treatment of violent young offenders? My right hon. Friend will no doubt have seen national publicity about an elderly pensioner, a constituent of mine, who will be 100 years of age on Sunday and who was savagely beaten up by a young thug earlier this week. Does he agree that remedies presently available to the courts are unsatisfactory and urgently need reviewing? Is he aware that my constituents and many people throughout the country believe that corporal punishment ought to be available to the courts to use in appropriate circumstances, but that they are prevented from imposing it by the European Convention on Human Rights so enthusiastically signed by the Labour party?

Mr. Newton

Unhappily, I was unable to be present at Home Office questions earlier, but I would be surprised if similar issues were not raised then. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is well aware of national concern, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) will know that my right hon. and learned Friend is working on new proposals for dealing with juvenile offenders, and I am sure that he will take note of my hon. Friend's points. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will want to express their horror at that appalling crime against a very elderly lady.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I note that a Northern Ireland order is to be considered next week. Can a statement be made on the delay in forthcoming Northern Ireland legislation? I have been a member of the House for 11 years and have been waiting for something in the nature of a children order all that time. A roads order is coming, and we have been pressing since 1983 for a residential parking order, which we are told cannot be introduced.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise a statement, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is due to answer questions in the House today week.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

My right hon. Friend will not be surprised if I ask why no time has been made available next week for the Report stage and Third Reading of the National Lottery etc. Bill. Surely the House is overindulging itself with the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. The Committee stage of the lottery Bill was completed six weeks ago today, and my right hon. Friend may be aware that the Government are advertising the appointment of an adviser to the Department of National Heritage. Surely it is time to put the rest of the bricks in place.

Mr. Newton

I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern, which he has assiduously expressed on several occasions during recent business questions. I do not accept that the business that I have announced could be described as over-indulgent, for I am sure that the House wants to make progress with the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. I seriously note my hon. Friend's concern, and perhaps I may more light-heartedly take his as a further suggestion for business that could be considered on Thursday, were time to become available.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

This autumn the Chancellor will introduce a so-called integrated Budget. That decision has never been debated in the House and the proposal is less progressive than it looks. Surely the House should have an opportunity to discuss such an important change in our financial control arrangements.

Mr. Newton

I think that the hon. Gentleman may be wrong in saying that that has not been debated in the House, but it would certainly have been before my time as Leader of the House. As I told his right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), I would have thought that it might be possible for the hon. Gentleman, subject to your discretion, Madam Speaker, to make observations on that matter during the debate on the Finance Bill.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

It will be clear to my right hon. Friend from questions today and yesterday that an increasing number of hon. Members are dissatisfied at the stance of the western powers on Bosnia. May I again press my right hon. Friend for an early debate on the apparent ineffectiveness of sanctions and diplomacy in dealing with evil murderers and systematic rapists?

Mr. Newton

I well understand the concern in all parts of the House about what is happening. That is why I arranged for a statement yesterday and no doubt why many of today's exchanges with the Prime Minister also focused on the issue. I do not in any way dismiss the concern of my hon. Friend and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), who raised the matter earlier. However, I cannot add to what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South about further debate.

Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

In view of the growing concern throughout England and Wales about the potential threat to public health from the growing number of disconnections by the privatised water companies, would the Leader of the House find time for a debate on debt and disconnection in the water industry before Scotland suffers the same disastrous consequences of privatisation that we are experiencing in this country?

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to provide time for such a debate, nor do I see how it could be in order on the Finance Bill—on which I have fallen back once or twice in the course of questions. I shall make sure that the hon. Lady's point is drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friends to whom it should be directed.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Can my right hon. Friend find an early opportunity to discuss the defence estimates and the Royal Navy? He may be surprised to know that three quarters of my constituents are affected by moves away or redundancy which will cost the Exchequer an additional £800 million that will not be repaid this century by any sort of savings. The House needs to look at the defence estimates, which seem to be going up, despite the number of people who are being made redundant.

Mr. Newton

I note that my hon. Friend has come in behind, as it were, the right hon. Member for Derby South (Mrs. Beckett) on a matter that is undoubtedly important. I shall certainly seek to find time for it when I can make an opportunity available. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the extremely vigorous and energetic way in which he has represented the interests of his constituents in these matters for a long time.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

On the subject of the Finance Bill, and given the importance of the oil tax changes that were proposed in the Budget, with up to 10,000 jobs at stake according to the Government but up to 30,000 at stake according to the industry, may I ask the Leader of the House whether he accepts that it would be appropriate to debate the Finance Bill in a Committee of the whole House? That would enable the maximum number of hon. Members, many of whom perhaps did not appreciate the importance of the measures in the Budget debate, to vote against these damaging Treasury proposals.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the arrangements for determining which parts of the Finance Bill are used to be taken in a Committee of the whole House are normally discussed through the usual channels. I am sure that those important elements of the usual channels who are present will have taken note of the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian)

Will the Leader of the House bring the appropriate Minister here so that we can have a debate on the proposed robbery of the British Coal superannuation scheme, as that proposal is so important to the people who will be affected by it?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to accept for one moment his description, but I draw his attention to the fact that the President of the Board of Trade will be here next Wednesday to answer questions.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we have an early debate on the circulation of racist and anti-semitic literature through the post? In particular, has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to a document, which is a peculiarly offensive and filthy forgery, that is circulating by the thousand in London? It purports to come from a synagogue and contains invented quotations from the Talmud, attacking the Christian religion. As it is equal in its cunning to "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", and as intelligent people are believing its content and attacking the Jewish communities for having produced it when it is a fascist forgery, may we at least have a statement from the Home Secretary denouncing it as the forgery that it most certainly is?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to warn me that he would seek to raise the matter. I need hardly say that that is always helpful, if only because it enables me to be more constructive in my answers than I might otherwise be.

This seems to me to be an offensive anti-semitic document, which the House will deplore. The law on incitement to racial hatred is contained, as the hon. and learned Gentleman will well know, in part III of the Public Order Act 1986. Prosecutions under it can be made in England and Wales only by, or with the consent of, the Attorney-General. However, responsibility for the investigation of complaints about material likely to incite racial hatred rests with the police as part of their general duties in the enforcement of criminal law. In view of the responsibilities of the Crown prosecution service in advising on prosecutions, I should make it clear that I would be happy to arrange to send a copy of the material to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I hope that that answer is helpful to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware of the tragic incident that occurred at the last meeting of the Cambridgeshire hunt 10 days or two weeks ago. Many of my constituents were present when young Thomas Woreby was killed at the hunt. Given that, while ever there are hunts, there will be violence because young people will try to prevent wild animals from being torn to pieces in the name of sport, will the Leader of the House initiate an early debate on fox hunting?

Mr. Newton

There have been a number of violent incidents in or near my constituency as well, so I understand why the hon. Lady has raised that matter. I cannot promise an early debate, but we should be concerned to do anything that we can to prevent outbreaks of violence wherever and however they may occur.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)

Will the Leader of the House agree to an early debate on the destruction of the coalfield communities that will be brought about by the implementation of the Government's recent 'White Paper? Will the House join me in congratulating Women Against Pit Closures, which, 100 days ago yesterday, set up pit camps to defend the pits from closure and to defend the coalfield communities from destruction?

Mr. Newton

It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that, while, once again, I appreciate why he has felt it right to raise that point, as it is only a short time—just before the recess—since the House had an extensive debate on the coal proposals, I have no immediate plans to stage another.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

During the proceedings on the Finance Bill on Monday week, is there likely to be a statement on the issue of the council tax and timeshare dwellings, remembering that the statutory instrument has to be addressed within 40 sitting days of 11 March? Does the Leader of the House accept that there is considerable concern among timeshare owners who feel that their property is not used for commercial purposes?

Mr. Newton

Given that the council tax would be a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the. Environment rather than one to be dealt with in the proceedings on the Finance Bill, I am not sure of the connection that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I am aware of the concern and of the fact that my right hon. and hon. Friends have made a number of points relevant to that concern. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's raising of it this afternoon to the attention of the appropriate Ministers.

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

The Leader of the House will remember that, in October, the Secretary of State for Employment announced a package of £75 million for retraining measures for redundant miners. On 31 March, she announced measures for the release of that money and it is clear that, because of those criteria, not one penny of that money will come to north Nottinghamshire. Miners feel that they are being short-changed by the Government over their jobs, their pensions and now retraining. May we have an urgent statement on that next week?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise time for an urgent statement, but I shall certainly bring the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on effective parliamentary scrutiny of the Prime Minister? Many hon. Members on this side of the House feel that Prime Minister's Question Time is too short, is full of planted questions and that the Prime Minister does not answer other questions effectively. Whatever else it is, Prime Minister's Question Time is not an effective way of checking the Executive. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate so that we may examine possible ways of improving that accountability?

Mr. Newton

From where I sit, it looks like a pretty effective means of scrutiny, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, on the occasions when I have deputised for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, it feels like an effective form of scrutiny. What is more, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I think that my right hon. Friend is very good at responding.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

What chance is there of an early debate on the situation in the aerospace industry? Recently, 260 of my constituents on the production line of the executive jet of British Aerospace at Broughton lost their jobs and 700 of my constituents in the same factory on the airbus production line have also lost their jobs. Surely there should be time for a debate so that we may know what the Government are doing to assist the industry and my constituents who are soon to lose their jobs.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise an early debate, but I would make two points to the hon. Gentleman who, as ever, is representing the interests of his constituents. First, any difficulties are in common with aerospace industries around the world because of underlying recessionary difficulties which go well beyond these shores. Secondly, the British Government, not least my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have manifestly put a huge effort into obtaining orders for the British aerospace industry to help with the problems that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

If the Leader of the House is not prepared to have a debate on Bosnia next week, may we have a debate on early-day motion 1766 which deals with arms dealing in relation to Bosnia?

[That this House questions the propriety of Baroness Thatcher calling for a lifting of the arms embargo on Bosnia when her family has substantial interests in the arms trade; and calls upon her to declare interests before future statements are made.]

Is the Leader of the House aware that some of us were incredulous when Baroness Thatcher talked about the innocent little Muslim children, given the way in which she treated those Muslim children in Iraq? When she talks about selling arms, we hear the footsteps of her son the arms salesman and the jingle of Arab money.

Mr. Newton

In view of the seriousness of the concern that is felt on both sides of the House about what is happening in Bosnia, and the difficulty of the issues involved, that question falls well below the level of events.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

If the Leader of the House accepts the seriousness of the situation in Bosnia and the concern about it, why is it not possible, even at this late stage, for the Government to reconsider next week's business and, instead of devoting three days to Maastricht, devoting at least one day to a wide-ranging debate on what can be done about the Bosnian situation to try to stop the continuing war crimes there—the atrocities, the systematic rapes—against people whose only crime, it seems, is that they are Muslims?

Mr. Newton

I make two points to the hon. Gentleman. First, it would have been open to his right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench to choose that subject for the Supply day debate on Tuesday. Secondly, I shall take this as yet another request for what, increasingly, hon. Members on both sides of the House seem to hope will he an otherwise vacant day on Thursday, and I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's help in ensuring that such progress is made on the Maastricht Bill.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have a debate next week on the publication of accounts by political parties? It will be entirely appropriate for the Leader of the House to make a statement in support of that today as there is a notice of motion on the Order Paper for an unopposed return under the Representation of the People Act 1983, which, as the Leader of the House knows, is legislation designed to prevent corruption through excessive expenditure during a general election. Why should not we have similar legislation to prevent corruption, once the Government are in place, by payments to a political party which produced, for example, before the last general election £17 million for the Conservative party?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones)

Not enough.

Mr. Cryer

The right hon. Gentleman says that it was not enough. That £17 million has secured a number of promises from the Government, and we want to know what those promises are and from where the money comes.

Mr. Newton

In view of the occasional remarks of some trade union leaders about what they expect from the Labour party in response to. the financial contributions that they make, I find that a rather odd question. I will respond, in my usual low-key way, by saying that I have no plans for a debate next week.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Following the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), may I remind the Leader of the House that I have a ten-minute Bill application on the abolition of fox hunting on 27 April? In view of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, perhaps I can put him down as one of the sponsors. In the meantime, may we have a debate in Government time on animal welfare? The Leader of the House will be aware that most hon. Members receive more correspondence on animal welfare issues than on any other subject. It would give us an opportunity to raise the subject of the slaughter of pilot whales by the Faroese and the failure of stores such as Marks and Spencer to take positive action to prohibit the sale of Faroese meat.

Mr. Newton

I think that the hon. Gentleman would be as surprised as the rest of the House if I were to respond by urging him on with his Bill or immediately promisiing him the time that he seeks. I want to correct a wrong impression that he might have gained from my, I hope, reasonably understanding reply to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). The incident in my constituency that I referred to was gross violence committed by hunt saboteurs against people who were doing something entirely lawful. That too is something that we will be seeking to prevent.

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