HC Deb 29 April 1993 vol 223 cc1156-64 3.38 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: TUESDAY 4 MAY—European Communities (Amendment) Bill, Report state, first day.

WEDNESDAY 5 MAY—European Communities (Amendment) Bill, Report stage, second day.

THURSDAY 6 MAY—Debate on the Royal Navy, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 7 MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 10 MAY—Progress in Committee on the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet on Wednesday 5 May at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows:

Committee 'A'

Document No. 11235/92 on European agricultural guidance and guarantee fund anti-fraud measures.

Committee 'B'

Document 7021/92 on company taxation.

[Wednesday 5 May: European Standing Committee A

Relevant European Community Document

11235/92 Anti-fraud measures

Relevant European Legislation Committee Document HC 79-xviii (1992–93).

European Standing Committee B

Relevant European Community Document

7021/92 Company Taxation

Relevant European Legislation Committee Report HC 79-vi (1992–93)]

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the Leader of the House for that statement, and especially for the debate on the Navy for which he will recall hon. Members on both sides have been pressing for some time. I remind him that we are still anxiously awaiting an announcement of the assignment of the new European constituencies in terms of where they will go and of who will deal with the issue of boundaries. Labour Members have repeatedly said that it would be outrageous if such decisions did not go to the Boundary Commission, which has expressed its willingness and ability to deal with them. We are anxious to have an early statement in the House on the matter.

May I press the Leader of the House for a statement and some information on the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill, which I understand may be returning from another place shortly? I hope that he can tell us that it will be possible to have the new draft immigration rules before the House before we come to that part of our proceedings so that people can assess how the Government have been able to meet assurances given in Committee which will clearly inform the debate that we have here.

I ask the Leader of the House to bear in mind that we will need at least three full days in Committee on the Finance Bill so that we can explore, for example, the recent judgment of the IMF that we are seeing the emergence of a structural budget deficit alongside a structural trade deficit in the United Kingdom. The emergence of such twin deficits will be of great concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

To address the issue of the victims of the Government's economic policy, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to ask the Secretary of State for Employment to come to the House and make a statement on the observation of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans): of the 1 million long-term unemployed, probably half … can be termed layabouts".—[Official Report, 27 April 1993; Vol. 223, c. 838.] The Secretary of State conspicuously failed to rebut that statement at the time—it has caused outrage certainly among Labour Members. I hope that she will take the opportunity to make a statement to rebut it.

Finally, I remind the Leader of the House that we are anxiously awaiting a further Opposition day.

Mr. Newton

On the last but one point, I will certainly bring the the right hon. Lady's request to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I must admit that I did not read into those remarks of my hon. Friend quite the import that the right hon. Lady has suggested.

As for days on the Finance Bill, the right hon. Lady will find that she will have ample opportunity to make the points that she evidently wishes to make, although I am not sure whether they truly arise in relation to the Finance Bill. It sounded more like the sort of point that she wanted to make anyway, and I acknowledge and, within limits, respect that.

On the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill, I cannot give immediately to the right hon. Lady the precise undertaking that she sought. I know that my hon. and right hon. Friends will seek to ensure that the House has what information it feels it properly should have in undertaking the further debates that will be required on that measure.

On the question of the boundaries of the extra European seats, I cannot add to what I have said on the past two or three occasions—that once proposals on the matter have been formulated, the Government plan to consult the Opposition parties. I am sure that the right hon. Lady will come well within that parameter.

I note the further request for another Opposition Supply day. I couple it with the right hon. Lady's kind thanks for the debate on the Navy. I repeat the point that I think I have been meeting the right hon. Lady's requests at the rate of one a week, so at least she can harbour some continuing hope.

Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)

As it appears to be the policy of the Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee not to reply to letters from right hon. and hon. Members regarding the future of Old Palace yard, will my right hon. Friend allow us to have a debate next week? Is he aware that it is a serious matter? It is wrong that hon. Members and their secretaries should be evicted to accommodate the House of Lords secretarial agency. Their Lordships have said that the building is not suitable. The proposal is to apply for planning permission to make structural alterations to a building that is clearly of great historical importance.

Mr. Newton

I am, of course, aware of the concern expressed in various quarters, not least by my right hon. Friend, about the matter. As he suggested from the way in which he put his question to me, the issues are primarily for the Accommodation and Works Select Committee, the Chairman of which I note is present in the Chamber. I am sure that he will have noted and will seek to respond in an appropriate way to my right hon. Friend's remarks.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

The Leader of the House may not be aware that in the past two weeks confusion seems to have developed between Ministers at the Department of the Environment about whether they have any responsibility for water charges in those parts of the country which face large increases in water charges. In view of the differences of opinion within the Department and with the Prime Minister, perhaps it would be appropriate to allow some time for a debate in the Chamber so that the matter can be urgently resolved. It seems extraordinary that Ministers have not decided among themselves.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends in all Departments are united in their view about such matters, but I will certainly bring the hon. Gentleman's perception of disagreement to their attention.

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

Last week my right hon. Friend agreed to consider my request that statutory instruments Nos. 526 and 542 should be referred to a Standing Committee for debate. In those statutory instruments the Government seek to treat timeshare dwellings as commercial properties subject to business rates. Now that the weakness of the Government's position has been exposed and the cost to individual timeshare owners has become clear, will my right hon. Friend grant my request?

Mr. Newton

I am afraid that I have not yet had an opportunity to complete my examination of the matter in the light of my hon. Friend's request last week. However, I note his further request, and I shall seek to complete my consideration as soon as possible.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motions 1858 and 1859 and the recent murder of the black schoolboy Stephen Lawrence?

[That this House shares the sense of outrage in the community in South East London following the brutal racist killing of Stephen Lawrence on 22nd April 1993; sends condolences to his parents, Neville and Doreen Lawrence; recognises the state of shock in the area in view of the previous murders of Rolan Adams and Rohit Duggal; believes that the presence and activity of the British National Party in the area incites racial hatred and contributes to the level of racial violence; calls on the Attorney General to bring proceedings against the British National Party for incitement to racial hatred; and calls on Bexley London Borough to use its enforcement powers to close the British National Party headquarters which are operating in breach of planning regulations.]

Stephen Lawrence, a church-going schoolboy, was standing by a bus stop when he was set upon by a gang of white youths carrying knives. It is the third murder of a young black person in recent months in that area. All those murders have taken place within a four-mile radius of the headquarters of the British National party.

I visited the family last weekend. In the light of the family's grief and the fear of the black community that the murders represent the start of a wave of racist attacks, I ask the Leader of the House to make time for a debate on racial attacks. We want to tell the House that the black community wants to see such murders receive the front-page attention that other attacks receive. They are fearful that the type of racial violence that we have seen in Europe is coming to the British Isles.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise the hon. Lady a debate, but I can say—and I am sure that I say it on behalf of not only members of the Government but of all Members of Parliament—that I unreservedly condemn all attacks on members of ethnic minority communities. We all extend our sympathy to the family of Stephen Lawrence and express our hope that the culprits will be caught and brought to book.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

My right hon. Friend will have seen early-day motion 1670 on the selected list proposals for family planning.

[That this House notes the Government's proposal to include the contraceptive pill in the Selected List of drugs for prescription under the National Health Service; notes that the United Kingdom uses the cheapest oral contraceptives of any country in the EC and that the contraceptive pill gives the lowest failure rate of any form of contraception; recognises that following medical advances, the newer and more expensive pills containing safer progestagens are most vulnerable to the Selected List proposals because they are more expensive but are the first choice when prescribing; is concerned about the possible side effects, such as weight gain, headaches, bleeding and even unplanned pregnancies in women forced to transfer to a cheaper contraceptive pill; notes that the saving per woman is of the order of 16.90 per annum and contrasts this with £200 as the average cost of a termination of pregnancy and £1,217 for a delivery; therefore concludes that there will be no net saving if between two and four unplanned pregnancies occur in 100 women per year; understands the concerns expressed by health care professionals and organisations including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Family Planning Association; and therefore calls on the Secretary of State for Health to delete the contraceptive pill from the Selected List.]

The matter is causing increasing anxiety among both doctors and the pharmaceutical industry. I draw the attention of the House to my declared interest in the matter. Will my right hon. Friend give time for a full debate in the House in Government time on the proposals, which will affect many patients throughout the country? I am aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) recently had an Adjournment debate on the matter, but I feel that it should have Government time for full debate.

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will be present to answer questions on the first day of the business programme that I have announced. Meanwhile, I understand that the independent advisory committee on NHS drugs will ensure that oral contraceptives to meet real clinical need remain available on NHS prescription.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

As to the question by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) about the Accommodation and Works Committee, I can assure the Leader of the House that any letters he or any hon. Member sends to it are replied to. Indeed, if anyone has a complaint, most of them—like the right hon. Member for Worthing—are invited to raise it with the Committee.

I was not going to ask that particular question. My main question was to ask whether the Leader of the House had read early-day motion 1892.

[That this House shares the concern reported in the House Magazine of 19th April over the way the televising of Select and Standing Committees can be something of a lottery because of a haphazard pricing structure which can result in broadcasting organisations being asked to pay up to £2,000 for the television feed of a two-and-a-half-hour Committee hearings; believes that Committee hearing which are of interest on editorial grounds should not go unrecorded soley because of cost; and calls on the Lord President of the Council and the Broadcasting Select Committee to have discussions with the independent contractor, CCT Productions Ltd., so as to agree a pricing structure which meets the needs of the smaller regional companies and programmes as well as those of the national news networks.]

I pay tribute to the Table Office for ensuring that it appeared on the Order Paper because it was tabled only at 2.30 this morning. I do not expect the Leader of the House to have read it, but it is of direct relevance to him. It has a direct effect on the House of Commons Committees and, in particular, on those dealing with private Member's Bills. The televising of my Committee was stopped because it could not be funded on the particular day that I wanted it to be televised.

Mr. Newton

If I might advert briefly to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question—which he conceded was not really his intended question at all—I realise that I am standing here as a sort of postbox in an exchange between my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) and the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell).

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The right hon. Gentleman is in the firing line.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Member for Bolsover is right, but I am glad to have facilitated this exchange between then.

As to the latter part of the question, I have not had a chance to look at the early-day motion, but I understand the position to be that the House decided that the broadcasting of Standing Committees should be, as it is called in the jargon, "demand-led"—that is to say, a Committee is covered only if one or more of the broadcasting organisations is willing to pay for it. I do not think that it is a matter over which I can have any direct or overriding control.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for time to be given soon for a debate on management buy-outs, with particular reference to Leyland-DAF, so that the preservation of jobs in the west midlands created by that management buy-out and its knock-on effect of retaining jobs in my own constituency can be fully discussed and the Government's contribution of £5 million to help Leyland-DAF can be properly noted?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his very sensible question. I am glad to confirm the welcome news that the Leyland-DAF receivers have now transferred ownership to the management buy-out team. I understand that that was completed over the weekend, and officially launched yesterday. It will secure about 1,000 jobs, and it is good news.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

May we have a debate soon on the financing of political parties in view of the recent revelations of the former director of fund raising for the Tory party that two thirds of the £11 million which the Tory party admits to spending in last year's general election came from rich overseas backers, many of whom did not have a vote in this country at that general election? Is it not a serious threat to democracy for the party of government to be filling its coffers in such a way?

Mr. Newton

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was here during Prime Minister's questions. If he was, I cannot better—nor will I attempt to—what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said then: that it takes a pretty fair nerve for questions of that kind to be asked by a party, well over half of whose members, as I understand it, are sponsored by trade unions and where trade union leaders are on record as saying something as simple and straightforward as that which my right hon. Friend quoted a few moments ago.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I again ask my right hon. Friend for a debate next week on the serious and ever more widespread mutilation of horses in this country and to take account of the recent report of the National Equine Welfare Committee, of which I am president, which is seeking to co-ordinate a nationwide effort to stop those vicious practices?

Mr. Newton

Once again, with respect, I note my hon. Friend's persistence in quite rightly raising this matter on the Floor of the House. I hope that he will understand that I am not able to promise a debate, but I will ensure that my hon. Friends with responsibilities in this area are made aware of his continued concern.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Thank you for calling me, Madam Speaker, and I wish you well as you enter your second year in the Chair.

May I support my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) in asking the Leader of the House for a debate next week on the funding of political parties so that we can compare the contributions from British trade unions, which are openly and honestly declared, with the secret contributions of millions of pounds from foreign business men and tax evaders and find out exactly what the kickbacks are and what they get in return for their secret, undeclared contributions to the party in government?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman seeks to make amends to you, Madam Speaker, for what amounted to lese-majesté yesterday or the day before. He can ask me the question but he will not get a different reply. I would like him to explain what was said to the union leader who said that he will have a say in the party while he continues to fund it and that it will be a question of "No say, no pay". What about that?

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Will the Leader of the House make time to enable the House to redebate some elements of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which is clearly not working? I concede that I voted for this Act and that I was wrong. I hope that the Government will also concede that they were wrong.

One element is that magistrates do not know the history of the persons appearing before them and therefore, when the case has been proved, they do not know whether the sentence is for a persistent or a first-time offender. Clearly, that is wrong. The fines formula is also not working well. People with a disposable income of more than £100—

Madam Speaker

Order. There is no need to argue the case. The hon. Gentleman must ask a business question.

Mr. Dickens

I wanted to be clear about the two elements. The disposable income formula is not working well and, as Madam Speaker has so kindly suggested, a debate would give us a wonderful opportunity to explore the subject in depth.

Mr. Newton

Even without a debate, it sounded to me as if my hon. Friend managed to explore it in some depth and I note his concern. He will be aware that we are all—including my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary—aware of the comments and criticisms made in that respect. Equally, he will understand that I cannot promise a debate or the Bill that he appears to want, but I shall consider the matter carefully.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Could the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement from the Minister responsible for fisheries on the implementation of policies towards the industry, particularly the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill? Because of the preponderance of agricultural questions during Agriculture, Fisheries and Food questions, he will have noted that there was no opportunity for Members of Parliament representing fishing communities to express their views. He will also recognise that the Government's policies are extremely controversial and wholly hated in the fishing communities. May we have an early statement so that those matters can be examined once again?

Mr. Newton

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman evidently did not manage to get in during Agriculture questions. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister was as sorry as I am and I am sure that he will seek to respond appropriately to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on British relations with Denmark before 18 May? May I remind him that at the Edinburgh summit the Foreign Secretary said ' that it would not be a political reality to suppose that we should sit down at a new place and renegotiate a treaty with 11 member states without Denmark. As he has since made some ambiguous remarks in Denmark which, given their worst interpretation, may amount to a betrayal of the promises made to obtain the paving debate—

Madam Speaker

Order. I do not need hon. Members to argue their case at business questions. A couple of lines merely to give an indication of the subject to the Leader of the House would be sufficient. Will the hon. Gentleman please make his point?

Mr. Budgen

Those ambiguous words might have been a gross—

Madam Speaker

Order. I am now calling the hon. Gentleman to order. He must either ask a direct question or resume his seat. Which is it to be?

Mr. Budgen

I shall ask a direct question. In the light of those observations, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate as quickly as possible?

Mr. Newton

I have nominated two days of debate on European matters—the first two days after the weekend. I am not absolutely sure whether my hon. Friend was present during Prime Minister's questions on Tuesday, but even if he was not he has only to read the record of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) to see that the implications of the question that he has just asked were completely disposed of by the answer of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Tuesday.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

When will the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry make a statement on the new map of assisted area status for Britain? Cardiff, Newport, Rhyl, Wrexham, and Alyn and Deeside are apprehensive about losing that prized status. Wales must not miss out. There are 3,100 people out of work in my constituency; they need the status to find work.

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Gentleman's concern about the assisted area status map. I take it that he is giving a sign of what he wants to see in the outcome of the current review. I am not in a position to give the outcome today, or to say precisely when it will be possible to give it. However, I am sure that, once again, my right hon. Friends will have noted the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that in a moment or two the House will undertake a debate on the problems of Bosnia and the ethnic difficulties of that embattled republic. Does he accept that a similar, although lower profile, problem presently exists on the wonderful and beautiful island of Cyprus, about which discussions are taking place? Will my right hon. Friend arrange for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary or an appropriate Minister to come to the House and make a statement on the United Kingdom Government's exact stance on the problem? That would allow the Foreign Office to adopt an even-handed attitude to both the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots—which is not the case at present.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise the sort of statement that my hon. Friend wants, but at least I am saved from the task of having to act as a postbox as the man at whom the missive was aimed, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, is by my side.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House provide time next week for a debate on the long overdue reports of the Select Committee on Members' Interests on a register of lobbying interests and new registration rules which are roughly two years and 14 months overdue? Does he not realise that people will think it hypocritical of the Tories to vote for a 1.5 per cent. pay freeze for the public sector while many of them are busy lining their pockets with outside directorships and parliamentary adviserships? Such moves have been backed by a Government who consistently refuse to give time for a debate on reports as requested by the House.

Mr. Newton

Leaving aside all the political stuff at the end of the hon. Gentleman's question, as I have said to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) on a number of occasions, I am hoping to make progress on the matter. Clearly, the House has had to deal with much business of various sorts in recent weeks.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)

Given the tragedy of Warrington, the mayhem of Bishopsgate, regular disasters throughout the United Kingdom, particularly Northern Ireland, and the fact that the IRA has boasted that no security levels are immune to them, will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on a means of resolving those problems?

Mr. Newton

I certainly cannot promise a debate next week, but I note the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed—I am sure that it is echoed in many parts of the House. I shall bring it to the attention of the Home Secretary, who is the person principally concerned.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith)

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland next week to clear up the confusion that has arisen in Scotland about what has happened to its share of the money announced by the Secretary of State for Employment for after-school child care? When I asked her about this in January, she said that 9 per cent. of the £45 million should go to Scotland and that the money was earmarked for that purpose. Can the Secretary of State explain, then, why the money is ring-fenced in England and well publicised in England, yet the Scottish Office has refused to ring-fence it or give any publicity to it?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman should be able to find an opportunity to put that point directly to the Secretary of State on Wednesday 5 May, when he will be here to answer questions.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, regardless of what may or may not happen on 14 May to the private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), the Government will, in the next Session, introduce a Bill of their own on Sunday trading, offering at least three choices on which the House will be able to vote without a Whip?

Mr. Newton

In a technical sense, my hon. Friend is asking me to pre-empt the Queen's Speech, but he will be well aware of what has been said about the Government's intention to introduce legislation covering this matter.

Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that the doctors' surgery at Windmill Hill in my constituency has closed today, and that the 703 patients of the surgery were advised of the closure by Cheshire health authority only last weekend? They were not consulted about the decision, and they now have to go elsewhere in Runcorn to find doctors' practices. Can the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House next week and make a statement on how the patients charter is protecting the interests of my constituents?

Mr. Newton

As it happens—I have already said this once or twice—the Secretary of State for Health is due to be here on Tuesday 4 May. Perhaps I can be even more helpful by saying that I understand that the hon. Gentleman has already spoken to the Minister, who has agreed to write to him about the matter. I am sure that she and her officials are looking into it at this very moment.