HC Deb 24 June 1993 vol 227 cc459-66 4.15 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week. The business will be as follows:

MONDAY 28 JUNE—Opposition day (15th allotted day). Until about 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "The Economic, Environmental and Proliferation Implications of a Decision to bring THORP into operation" in the name of the Liberal Democrats; followed by a debate on regional development in the name of Plaid Cymru.

Motion relating to the first report, Session 1991–92, of the Select Committee on Members' Interests entitled "Registration and Declaration of Members' Financial Interests" (HC 326).

Debate on the third report, Session 1990–91, of the Select Committee on Members' Interests entitled "Parliamentary Lobbying" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House (HC 586).

TUESDAY 29 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Disclosure of Interests in Shares (Amendment) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 30 JuNE—Second Reading of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill.

THURSDAY I JULY—There will be a debate on law and order on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 2 JULY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 5 JULY—Opposition day (16th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled "The Continuing Closure of Coal Mines" on an Opposition motion.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet on Wednesday 30 June at 10.30 am to consider European Community Documents as follows: Committee A, documents Nos. 4116/92 and 6227/93 relating to colours for use in foodstuffs; Committee B, documents Nos. COM (92) 84, 9973/92, 5456/93 and 6006/93, relating to structural funds.

[ Wednesday 30 June:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community documents: 4116/92 and 6227/93, colours for use in foodstuffs; relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: HC 24-ix (1991–92), HC 79-xxx ( 1992–93).

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: COM (92) 84, 9973192, 5456/93 and 6006/93; relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: HC 79-ii ( 1992–93 ), HC 79-xiv ( 1992–93), HC 79-xxvi ( 1992–93 ) and HC 79-xxx ( 1992–93 ).]

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

May I remind the Leader of the House that there is a long-standing request for a debate on the Government's public expenditure programme? As I have reminded him in the past, we would like to debate the public expenditure programme in its full glory before it is hacked to pieces in the process of Cabinet discussion.

In terms of the use of public expenditure, I also ask the Leader of the House to seek a statement from his colleagues about the use of legal aid. The right hon. Gentleman will be conscious of the concerns of hon. Members on both sides of the House at the suggestions in the press today that—at a time when many people on low incomes are being denied access to legal aid because of the Government's decisions—Mr. Nadir may benefit from what may be as much as £1 million of taxpayers' money in legal aid. Many hon. Members would like some information about that.

On the matter of law enforcement—particularly as there is to be a debate on law and order next week—I wish to raise a matter with the Leader of the House that has been raised with him a number of times before. May we have as early a statement as possible about the Government's plans for the structure of the police force, as rumours have caused considerable anxiety across the country? Can the right hon. Gentleman give any information on whether there will be a statement soon on the Sheehy report, which has implications for the morale and development of the police service?

Mr. Newton

On the first and much repeated request concerning public expenditure, I am afraid that I cannot undertake to find Government time next week for a debate. I continue to find some conflict in the demands from the right hon. Lady who, were Ito announce a debate on public expenditure, would almost certainly demand a Supply day. I am meeting her Supply day requests at a fairly rapid rate—roughly once a week.

The right hon. Lady will not have to wait beyond the end of next week for the satisfaction of her demands in respect of a statement on law enforcement, but I.cannot precisely predict the day on which they will be met—except to say that she will have an opportunity to debate this extensively on Thursday.

Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing number of problems to do with human rights that some of us have had a chance to see in Belgrade and Zagreb? Will he find time to discuss those matters, perhaps within the wider context of a foreign affairs debate?

Mr. Newton

I well recognise my hon. Friend's concern and the opportunities that he has with the Inter-Parliamentary Union to observe these matters at first hand—and to express his own well-known concern about them. I cannot give him a specific undertaking for a debate of the kind that he suggests, but I shall bear his request in mind.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Leader of the House has already referred to the pressure on the time of the House. May we have an early statement arising out of my question last week about the reform of the scrutiny of legislation for Northern Ireland? We need proper scrutiny, not a charade.

Mr. Newton

Perhaps I may take this opportunity to thank the hon. Gentleman for his courteous letter, following our misunderstanding arising out of last week's question. I am afraid that I cannot give him the promise he seeks; but the debate that is about to take place would seem to offer him the chance to raise the points about which he is concerned.

Mr. Stephen Milligan (Eastleigh)

Would my right hon. Friend consider holding a further debate on the financing of political parties? Is he aware that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) is a great advocate of the principle of the right to reply—indeed, he introduced a Bill for that very purpose? Given the unsubstantiated charge that he made in Tuesday's debate, would it not be right to hold another debate to give Ministers a chance to reply to what was a cowardly charge, because it was made when the President of the Board of Trade was recovering from a heart attack?

Mr. Newton

I am not quite sure whether I would like to make again the speech that I made on Tuesday evening—I do not know how the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) would feel about making hers again. I certainly take my hon. Friend's point, however. In the course of that debate, I observed, probably in more vigorous language, that I found it rather strange that the hon. Member for Hammersmith should repeat his allegations in the face of the clear statement by the Saudi ambassador to the United States, which I read out no less than twice in the course of the debate.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

In requesting an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for National Heritage, may I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to information that I have received from a highly reliable source to the effect that it has been decided to abolish "News at Ten" and replace it with an ITN news bulletin at 6.30 pm? That would mean no news on the ITV network after 6.30 pm, and no news on the commercial network after 7 pm. That in turn will mean that the ITV network will not be fulfilling its national responsibilities. It is essential that we have a statement from the Government on this matter.

Mr. Newton

I shall certainly put that suggestion to the Secretary of State for National Heritage, but that is not to be taken as my assent to the proposition. My initial reaction is that this is primarily a matter for the broadcasters, not for the Secretary of State. They should determine at what times the news is broadcast.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has received the same sort of vigorous representations as I received on Saturday in my constituency surgery from my local myalgic encephalomyelitis support group. If he has, he will understand why I attach such importance to an urgent debate in the House on that subject. ME sufferers are concerned about the detailed implications of the current benefits review and about some of the attitudes displayed by the Department of Health. Such a debate would do a great deal to reassure a large group of people about the importance that the House attaches to their problems.

Mr. Newton

I have not recently had representations of that sort, but as a constituency Member and based on my long ministerial experience in health and social security, I am certainly aware of the anxieties to which my hon. Friend refers. He will probably know that a task force is being set up, with representatives from the Royal College of General Practitioners, ME voluntary organisations and the Department of Health, with a view to looking at the existing literature and research and to disseminating information to health care professionals in a way that we hope will significantly aid the treatment and care of people suffering from ME.

People suffering from ME, in the same way as those suffering from any other disease with disabling effects, would be entitled to benefit if it is shown that they are incapable of work.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to decisions made last week in the Paris Commission by the committee dealing with European environmental issues? Having learned that the atmospheric discharge of nuclear toxics would be increased by 1,100 per cent. and that maritime discharges would increase by 900 per cent., the committee passed a resolution asking the British Government to re-examine the introduction and commissioning of the THORP plant at Sellafield, and to arrange an independent inquiry on the real environmental effects. Moreover, the Nuclear Information Centre in Tokyo has said that the permitted level of discharge in the British Isles is five times the level permitted in Japan.

Given that this environmental problem affects all of us, may we have a general debate on the effects of the nuclear industry on the environment?

Mr. Newton

I assume that the hon. Gentleman was present during my statement. The first debate that I announced—for next Monday, which is an Opposition day—will deal with precisely that subject: the economic, environmental and proliferation implications of bringing THORP into operation. That should give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity he seeks.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that we can have a debate on defence immediately after the publication of the White Paper, which is imminent? Is he aware that last week's defence debate was considerably delayed? Is he further aware that a debate next week would give hon. Members from the south-west an opportunity to point out that they have always supported the nuclear deterrent, and the Trident programme in particular?

It might also give our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence an opportunity to tell the House whether he was influenced by the fact, and by the corresponding fact that most of those lobbying for Rosyth from Scottish constituencies have been opposed to the Trident programme in the past?

Mr. Newton

I imagine that a number of people have observed the facts cited by my hon. Friend in the second part of his question. As for the first part, he will know that it is normal practice for the Select Committee on Defence to have an opportunity to study and report on the defence estimates before they are debated. That must obviously be an influential factor in the determination of the timing of such a debate.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have a statement and an apology next week from the Secretary of State for Education, who has persistently accused Labour-controlled local authorities of preventing fair discussion of any opt-out proposals? May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to early-day motion 2209?

[That this House condemns the Chairman of Governors at Wibsey First School in Bradford for failing to ensure that all governors were notified of a meeting to discuss opting out, failing to ensure, as promised, that the teachers, who voted by 18 to two against, would have their views conveyed to parents, failing to comply with the 1988 Act by providing a true and accurate record of those eligible to vote when requested to do so by a parent-governor, censoring the material of the opposition group of parents and governors, changing the date of voting so that a meeting to discuss the issue was to be held after ballot papers were issued rather than before, as had been agreed; condemns this record of cheating and chicanery which denies the proper conduct of the democratic process; and calls on the Secretary of State for Education to repudiate the actions of the Conservative Chair of Governors.]

As the motion explains, the Conservative chairman of Wibsey First school, in my constituency, has engaged in considerable chicanery by changing the times of meetings and preventing teachers who voted 18 : 2 against opting out from conveying their views to parents. He has also engaged in a host of other activities designed to destroy the democratic process.

It is time that the Secretary of State accepted that any chicanery comes from the Conservatives involved, not from members of the Labour party, who are trying to present a fair case. That is not happening in Wibsey First school.

Mr. Newton

Let me leave the politics aside and deal with the practicalities. The arrangements for balloting parents on such matters are the responsibility of the governing body of the school; in those circumstances, it would not be appropriate for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to comment. However, it is open to those who have complaints—as the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) clearly has—to write to the Department setting out the grounds for those complaints, which will then be considered.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the light of Tuesday's debate, when Labour Members—if I may paraphrase—made silly buggers of themselves, many Conservative Members wish that every day was an Opposition day? Does he agree, however, that, given the importance of the issues that might have been debated on Tuesday, fewer days should now be allocated to Labour Members, until they learn to behave like a responsible Opposition?

Mr. Newton

I suppose that half of me finds that an attractive suggestion, but the other half has not quite reached the stage of wanting to blow up the usual channels.

Madam Speaker

I remind the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) of "Erskine May's" words: Good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

As regards Monday's debate on Members' interests, would it be possible for the Leader of the House to arrange for the letters that were written by Conservative Members to the Attorney-General about Mr. Nadir's case to be put in the Library? Would it not be appropriate for us to see precisely why Conservative Members with no constituency interest wrote to the Attorney-General, instead of just reading about the matter in the newspapers from time to time?

Mr. Newton

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, the motion on Monday is concerned with proposals from the Select Committee for clarifying the rules for the Register. I suggest that it will he best if the debate is confined to that.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. We are now going to move on.

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

In view of the statement by the Secretary of State for Defence earlier today, I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the decision today by the Cabinet on the Trident refit contract and its adverse effect on the economy of Scotland. First, it is clear from the reaction to the statement that there is widespread concern in the House that the decision made is contrary to previous undertakings by Defence Ministers that the Trident refit would go to Rosyth. Secondly, there is a need for the Government to give further details of how the decision was arrived at, to explain the economic and financial justification for the decision, and to outline what action is to be taken to protect the interests of the workers whose jobs are now threatened. Finally, there is a need for the House to consider how today's decision will jeopardise the security and defence of the country.

Rosyth is the biggest single industrial employer in Scotland, and its subcontractors and suppliers employ many thousands more. The Government have a duty to explain and defend their decision to the House, and to do so today.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the decision today by the Cabinet on the Trudent refit and its effect upon the Scottish economy. I am satisfied that the matter raised by the hon. Member is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 20. Has the hon. Gentleman the leave of the House? I require 40 Members standing.

The motion for the Adjournment of the House will now stand over until 7 o'clock tonight, when a debate on the matter will take place for three hours.

The leave of the House having been given, the motion stood over under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) until 7 o'clock this day.

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

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think that it would be helpful and for the convenience of the House if, in the light of your decision, I said that the Government would not, in these circumstances, proceed with the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1993—that is, the second item of Northern Ireland business—this evening.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I should like to thank the Leader of the House for that statement.

Madam Speaker

That is most helpful. We should now make progress.