HC Deb 25 February 1993 vol 219 cc1015-22 4.10 pm
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

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 1 MARCH—Debate on Welsh affairs, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

TUESDAY 2 MARCH—Progress on remaining stages of the Education Bill.

WEDNESDAY 3 MARCH—Completion of remaining stages of the Education Bill.

Motion on the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 7).

THURSDAY 4 MARCH—European Communities (Amendment) Bill: progress in Committee, 14th day.

FRIDAY 5 MARCH—Debate on crime prevention, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 8 MARCH—European Communities (Amendment) Bill: progress in Committee, 15th day.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee A will meet on Wednesday 3 March at 10.30 am to consider European Community Document No. 10483/92 relating to the common organisation of the market in potatoes.

[Wednesday 24 February: European Standing Committee A Relevant European Community Document No. 10483/92, potatoes; relevant report of the European Legislation Committee—HC 79-xiv (1992–93).]

Mr. Brown

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

On a day when a further 12,000 jobs have been axed—including a further 3,000 at British Gas—and the European Commission has designated parts of Britain as the most depressed areas in the Community, should not the Leader of the House announce a debate, in Government time, on unemployment and the economy? When shall we have a debate in which the concerns of coalfield communities can be raised?

The topic of crime is related to that of unemployment. The Home Secretary seems to be willing to share his views with everyone except Members of the House of Commons. When will the House have an opportunity to debate crime with the right hon. and learned Gentleman? Friday's debate is not adequate for the purpose, as I understand that the Home Secretary will not be present for it.

When will we have a debate on the defence estimates —or do the Government intend to publish next year's estimates before last year's have been debated by the House? Specifically, when will we have a debate on the Royal Navy? Will we have such a debate before further massive redundancies are announced for Tyneside, Rosyth or Devonport?

The Leader of the House must know that we still want a commitment from the Government for a debate on the details of their public expenditure plans.

Finally—not just because the Government seem to be trying to avoid a number of important topics—should we not have an Opposition Supply day so that the Opposition can raise matters that the Government clearly do not want to discuss?

Mr. Newton

That is a fairly lengthy list of demands. I note that the hon. Gentleman studiously avoided giving any thanks for the fulfilment of the main demand of the past two weeks—for a debate on the Education Bill, which is included in next week's programme.

As for the hon. Gentleman's requests in respect of defence estimates and a day's debate on the Royal Navy, I note what he has said, but I think that we have done rather well in recent weeks. We have provided debating time for both defence and foreign affairs—most notably, yesterday's debate.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned unemployment and public expenditure. I repeat what I have said in several previous weeks: the House will be well aware that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will present his Budget in the middle of next month, and I feel that the Budget debate will provide ample opportunity for all such issues to be debated.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned crime. Again, I note his remarks, but I consider them pretty churlish, given that a day's debate on crime and crime prevention is included in the programme.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1370, which has now been signed by 117 Members on both sides?

[That this House acknowledges the invaluable work carried out by Reunite on behalf of those who suffer child abduction; and urges the Government not to terminate its grant to Reunite on 31st March 1993.]

It expresses grave concern about the Home Office proposal to withdraw its grant from the organisation, Reunite, which is the one national charity seeking to serve the victims of child abduction. When child abduction is very much in our minds and the problem is almost certainly becoming worse, does not my right hon. Friend agree that it would be reprehensible if the Government were to cause Reunite to collapse as a result of the withdrawal of its grant? Will he agree to giving us an early opportunity to debate this important matter?

Mr. Newton

I do not think that I can undertake to provide time for a debate, but I can certainly undertake, as I did to another hon. Member last week, to bring my right hon. Friend's concern to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention. I should add, as I did last week, that I understand that the position in respect of Reunite is that the Home Office agreed to fund it on a temporary basis to help the organisation to establish itself and to find other sources of support. Without in any way minimising the import of what my right hon. Friend said, from my own experience I know that that is a fairly frequent basis on which the Government help voluntary organisations.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Does the Leader of the House agree that, as he acknowledged the importance of the Prime Minister's visit to the United States of America, it would be in order for the Prime Minister to make a statement to the House on Monday, particularly on his discussions with the American President about the GATT talks, a matter which is causing concern, I think, on both sides of the House?

In the context of recent decisions that have been announced about the Commission's view on regional development assistance relating to objective 1 funds, could the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate in Government time on the representations the Government are making to the Commission on the whole gamut of decisions for the future of Europe?

Mr. Newton

The list of requests for debate, against a background of considerable demand, is growing all the time, and the hon. Member might be slightly surprised if I were to give an immediately forthcoming response to his latter point.

On the question of a statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I simply note that the request has been made. It would clearly be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to consider. As I intimated when I was wearing another hat 40 minutes or so ago, the talks appear to have gone well; and one of the ways in which they have gone well is in making clear the American Government's continued commitment to a satisfactory outcome of the GATT negotiations.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that we will have a debate early next week on pornography and obscenity, bearing in mind that hon. Members have been horrified to find out that, despite the assurances given during the debate on the European broadcasting directive, there seems to be nothing that Her Majesty's Government can do to stop access being sold for the porn channel known as Red Hot Dutch or to control obscenities from Europe by means of that porn TV channel?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise a debate next week, but I am aware of the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed, which I am sure is shared by many hon. Members. He will be well aware, I think, that the Government are considering urgently what action they can take, especially in respect of Red Hot Dutch, in accordance with our international obligations.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

Does the Leader of the House remember the promise that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) last week that he would investigate the lack of religious tolerance in St. Mary's Undercroft, the Crypt chapel? What has been the result of his investigations? If he has not completed them, will he report fully to the House when he has?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I have written today to the hon. Member for Bradford, West and, if I may, I shall refer to my letter. I am not sure that it will have reached him yet, but I hope that he will not take that as discourteous. The letter reads: I have made inquiries about the services which can be undertaken in the Chapel, and understand that the limitation on marriage services is not denominational but legal. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) will not be able to have a full marriage service in the Chapel because it is not licensed for marriages. The issue is therefore one of civil law rather than denominational restriction. Although hon. Members may feel that the matter should be considered, it is not quite the point that was put to me last week.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

The Government seem to be having a spot of bother with the Maastricht treaty. They had a defeat earlier this week and, as we can see from next week's business, they still lack the confidence to have a debate on this vital issue on a Tuesday or Wednesday. My right hon. Friend is a very educated man. I wonder whether I can help him by drawing his attention to the remarks of that eminent philosopher, John Locke, who said: the Legislative cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands. For it being but a delegated power"—

Madam Speaker

Order. I am not quite following the hon. Gentleman. I find it hard to see what this has to do with next week's business. Will he come to the point?

Mr. Marlow

It is to do with Europe. Mr. Locke is suggesting that we should have a referendum. The Government can get themselves off the dreadful hook on which they are impaled by debating a referendum next week, thereby satisfying the philosophical requirement and preserving the powers of the House.

Mr. Newton

It is, I fear, about 35 years since I studied the works of John Locke, so I hope that my hon. Friend will understand if I do not get drawn into philosophical exchanges with him but simply rest on the fact that the Government have no plans for making time available for such a debate next week.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

It is not so long since the Leader of the House was responsible for social security and social services matters. Will the Government therefore give a fair wind tomorrow to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, dealing with discrimination against disabled people, which would allow the House to legislate properly?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman, with his known interest in these matters, will be aware that tomorrow's debate will not be on the Second Reading of the Bill but will be on a motion on disabled people in which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People will seek to set out the Government's attitude.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

Will there be a responsible Minister present for the debate on crime to take on board criticisms that have been made of the operation of the Criminal Justice Act 1991? Did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity of reading in this week's Sunday Expressthe list of senior magistrates who felt obliged to resign? Is he aware that, only a few days ago, a constituent was fiined £800 for a traffic offence—

Madam Speaker

Order. This has nothing to do with next week's business. A number of hon. Members are rising whom I wish to call. Hon. Members should not raise constituency cases when we are discussing next week's business. With respect, I want brisk questions, and brisk answers from the Leader of the House.

Mr. Alexander

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that a responsible Home Office Minister is present for next week's debate on crime and punishment to take on board this widespread concern?

Mr. Newton

I can do two things: first, I assure my hon. Friend that a responsible Minister will be present—I expect it to be the Minister of State—and, secondly, in common with myself and, I hope, with all other Ministers, he will take on board everything that is said to him.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

The Leader of the House is probably aware that, in the past 24 hours, another two people have been killed in my constituency —a young soldier and a policeman—bringing to four in as many weeks the number of people who have been summarily executed by the petty little Hitlers who use the names Republican and Loyalist and operate as the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Will the Leader of the House arrange—preferably next week but, in any case, as soon as possible—a wide debate on the problem of Northern Ireland so that hon. Members on both sides of the House may remind themselves that their primary responsibility is to solve that problem and that, in relation to the loss of life, there is no acceptable level of indifference?

Mr. Newton

The whole House will understand why the hon. Gentleman raises these matters and will join him in deploring what has occurred. However, I cannot undertake specifically to provide time next week for the debate for which he asks.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for next week a debate on unacceptable aircraft noise, particularly over constituencies bordering Heathrow, such as my constituency? A debate would enable the House to consider in particular the document that has been issued for consideration of the public. The document envisages possible changes in the current ban on night flights, which will come to an end this year. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and I will wish to state our total opposition to any change in that ban.

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to provide time next week for such a debate. I take it—without giving offence to my hon. Friend—that the principal purpose of his question is to have my right hon. Friend's attention drawn to his views. I shall certainly see that that is done.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

Given the European Commission's proposal to put the question of objective I status for Merseyside and for the highlands and islands before the Council of Ministers for approval, can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement of endorsement of the Merseyside case in the same way as the Prime Minister has publicly endorsed the case for the highlands and islands?

Mr. Newton

I should have hoped that what I said about an hour ago, when I was wearing what I might call my deputising hat, could be taken as a clear sign of the Government's endorsement of and pleasure at the designation of Merseyside.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

As the loss of 12,000 jobs, including the jobs of soldiers operating in Bosnia and in Northern Ireland, has been announced today, will my right hon. Friend reflect upon the incongruity of the fact that up to 8 March, instead of debating the parlous economic situation of this nation, we shall yet again spend no less than one third of our time debating the proposed treaty on European union, which has nothing to do with the country's economic ills and the misery that many of our people are facing?

Mr. Newton

Of course I shall reflect as my hon. Friend asks, but I ought to make it clear that I do not accept that the Bill to which he refers has nothing to do with the economic future of this country. On the contrary, it has a great deal to do with our economic future and with making sure that it is as good as we should all wish it to be.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have next week a statement on the Government's attitude towards the threats emanating from Iran to Salman Rushdie, the author? Will the Government make it absolutely clear that if these outrageous and murderous threats are supported, either explicity or by implication, by any person in the United Kingdom, that person will face prosecution for what is a very serious offence?

Mr. Newton

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. He will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has agreed to a meeting with Mr. Rushdie. I understand that no date has yet been fixed.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

With reference to next week's debate on crime, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Minister who is to reply will take time to visit the Metropolitan police exhibition on pornography, which is in this building today? The Minister ought to hear from the police that they do not believe that they have adequate powers, particularly with regard to computer-aided pornography, which takes the face of a child from a catalogue of children's clothing and attaches to it the body of a fully grown woman in pornographic poses and sends the resulting image through the computer system, to be picked up by children or adults anywhere. This practice should be made criminal. Police should be given the power to stop it. Can my right hon. Friend ensure that Members who wish to raise this matter in the debate will get a response?

Mr. Newton

I share my hon. Friend's distaste for the practice that he described. As for the basic point of his question, I understand that the exhibition has been visited by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, whom I expect to take part in the debate.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will it be possible to have a debate on the security services, bearing in mind the latest information that the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, Mr. Campbell Christie, has had his correspondence interfered with by GCHQ? Is it not wholly inappropriate that such an infringement of civil liberties should occur? Is it not necessary to have a debate as quickly as possible on the security forces, following the recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee that the security services should be accountable to Parliament?

Mr. Newton

I cannot at this stage promise the debate for which the hon. Gentleman asks, but he will be aware of what the Government have said about legislation following what is called avowal of the Secret Intelligence Service.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Is early-day motion 1453 a matter not of civil law but of ecclesiastical diktat dubious in the 16th century?

[That this House is astonished to learn that the honourable Member for Leicester East has been denied permission for the Priest of his religion, Roman Catholic, to perform the rites of marriage in the Crypt, St. Mary's Undercroft, the Chapel of St. Stephen, the Church of the Martyrs; and hopes the decision will be reversed forthwith.]

Can it be altered—where there is a will there is a way —next week?

Mr. Newton

I am not sure that I can undertake to alter the matter next week or, at this stage, to add to the words that I quoted from my letter to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). I said then that I understood that the House might wish the matter to be given further consideration, and I note the hon. Gentleman's further request.

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

May I ask the question that I have asked repeatedly over the past 12 months?

Mr. Newton

We have reached the stage where I can be expected to know what the question is without it being asked, but may I say for the benefit of others who may not know that it involves Members' interests. I have now had a further response from the Chairman of the Select Committee following earlier discussions with him. I hope to talk to him again fairly soon—next week, I hope.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Leader of the House responded earlier to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) on the question of discrimination against disabled people and said that the Government would make a statement tomorrow. Will he accept that tomorrow or next week would be ideal for adopting the Bill that is due to receive a Second Reading tomorrow? Will he give an assurance that Tory Whips will not shout "Object" to the Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) when the Question is put at 2.30 pm after the debate on the motion so that we can debate the issue next week? Will the Government give it a chance of being passed?

Mr. Newton

I repeat what I have already said. A wide-ranging debate is expected on these matters tomorrow. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People will participate and will set out clearly the Government's position.

Mr. Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West)

The Leader of the House will have noticed the immense interest in the private notice question which was asked immediately before the business question. He will also be aware of the Secretary of State's statement on the Tomlinson report a couple of weeks ago and will have noticed how completely inadequate were her responses on both occasions. Can he undertake as a matter of urgency to provide Government time for a debate on the parlous state of London's health services in the round and ensure that the Secretary of State is here to answer in full before any further irreparable damage is done to those services?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise a debate. What is more, I must make it clear that I do not for a moment accept the hon. Gentleman's colourful interpretation of the Secretary of State's position. On the contrary, I think that her statement on the Tomlinson report was recognised as a well-balanced attempt to tackle long-standing problems in London; and what she said about the London ambulance service in the light of the report constituted a clear willingness to tackle the problems which have emerged.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

With reference to services in the Crypt, may I thank the Leader of the House for his inquiries and for the letter that I have not yet received. In view of the exchanges that have taken place, can he suggest the best way forward? Would it be possible for him to advise the appropriate authorities to apply for a licence? Is there amending legislation that he could arrange to table as a matter of urgency? Is there any means available to any hon. Member or to the House collectively to ensure that all denominations are able to use the facilities of the Crypt?

Mr. Newton

I received the advice which underlay my letter only very shortly before signing it, and I wished to respond to the hon. Gentleman as soon as possible. Many of the same questions had ocurred to me, but I have not yet been able to seek the further advice that is required. However, I give the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends the assurance that I will do so.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd), and in view of the statements earlier by the Secretary of State for Health about accountability, will the Lord President of the Council find time next week to summon the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to the House to answer for the period that he was Secretary of State for Health and say why he refused to take any action when the crisis in the London ambulance service was brought to his attention by the Association of London Authorities, the National Union of Public Employees and Opposition Members?

Mr. Newton

It is not perhaps quite the undertaking that the hon. Gentleman seeks, but I draw his attention to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be here to answer questions on Monday 8 March. However, it will be for you, Madam Speaker, rather than for me to decide whether a question on those lines would be in order.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made early next week on the second radioactive leak this month from Sellafield? The right hon. Gentleman will recall that we had a statement on 15 February about the leak that occurred on 12 February. However, a second leak of 3,000 becquerels of radioactivity took place on 13 February and not a word was said about it until Radio Cumbria broadcast the news this morning. This has now been confirmed by British Nuclear Fuels. Will the Government arrange for a statement so that the House, if not the Government, can end BNFL's long-standing policy of secrecy and deception?

Mr. Newton

Without accepting the rather argumentative point at the end of the hon. Gentleman's question, I note his request; but I certainly would not wish to excite his hopes of a further statement after the one that was made so recently.