HC Deb 18 March 1993 vol 221 cc405-13 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 22 MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget statement.

TUESDAY 23 MARCH—Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill [Lords.]

Motion relating to the Funds for Trade Union Ballots (Revocation) Regulations.

At Ten o'clock, the question will be put on all outstanding excess Votes, supplementary estimates and defence Votes A.

WEDNESDAY 24 MARCH—European Communities (Amendment) Bill: progress in Committee, 17th day.

THURSDAY 25 MARCH—European Communities (Amendment) Bill: progress in Committee, 18th day.

FRIDAY 26 MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 29 MARCH—European Communities (Amendment) Bill: progress in Committee, 19th day.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet on Wednesday 24 March at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows: Standing Committee A—Document No. 4307/93, relating to sheep and goat farming; Standing Committee B—Document No. 4436/93, relating to establishing a cohesion fund.

[Wednesday 24 March:

European Standing Committee A:

Relevant European Community document—4307/93, sheep-meat: ewe premium.

Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee—HC 79-xviii(1992–93), HC 79-xxiii (1992–93)

European Standing Committee B:

Relevant European Community document—4436/93, cohesion fund.

Relevant report of the European Legislation Committee—HC 79-xxii (1992–93).]

Mrs. Beckett

When does the Leader of the House think that he will be able to announce how the Government propose to handle, let alone schedule, debates on the defence estimates and on the Government's detailed public expenditure programme? I remind him that neither the defence estimates debate nor the scrutiny of the Government's public expenditure programme in full have taken place for two consecutive years. If he cannot give us a date, in particular for the public expenditure debate, will he give a commitment that there will be such a debate and, preferably, a debate on the defence estimates, well before the summer recess?

I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 1631.

[That this House views with considerable concern the rumours emanating from senior government sources that the review of the existing European parliamentary constituencies necessitated by the creation of six additional seats will be conducted by the Home Office with help from outside consultants; notes that such a decision will be a major departure from parliamentary convention that all boundary reviews are conducted by the independent and impartial boundary commissions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; and calls on the Government not to prejudice the high international regard of the British parliamentary system and lay itself open to accusations of gerrymandering parliamentary boundaries for narrow political advantages.]

I hope that he will take heed of it and find time for a debate on the matter. It calls for an early boundary review for European seats, in view of the fact that there will be six new European constituencies. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as expressed in that early-day motion, there is great concern in the House at the increasing signs that, instead of putting the programme to the Boundary Commission, which has said that it is quite able to handle it before the deadline, the Home Office proposes to make its own decisions about what the boundaries should be, possibly with the advice of a few, no doubt carefully chosen, individuals? That would not be acceptable to the House, and it is important that we are reassured as soon as possible.

Mr. Newton

Taking the right hon. Lady's latter point first, I understand that there is no truth in the rumours—to which I believe the early-day motion refers—that the review of European parliamentary constituencies will be conducted by the Home Office. The Government are simply formulating proposals for the best way of accommodating the six extra seats. When we have done so, we shall consult the Opposition parties in the usual way.

The right hon. Lady also asked about debates on the defence estimates—in fairness to her, I acknowledge that she has referred to that subject once before in recent weeks—and on the public expenditure programme. I cannot immediately give her the commitments for which she asked. Of course, we had a full debate on public expenditure in the wake of the autumn statement, although I accept that the right hon. Lady was making a somewhat different point. I should like to find time for a debate on the defence estimates, but I cannot undertake to do so before Easter.

Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway)

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether we can have an early debate on the recommendations of the Jopling Committee? I understand that the process of negotiation is now being held up by intransigence on the part of the Opposition. I find that extraordinary, given that many women outside the House look towards some reform of the hours worked here. I am astonished that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is not helping in the matter.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise a debate before Easter, but discussions have been taking place through the usual channels, and are continuing. I have no doubt that the right hon. Member for Derby, South will seek to respond as soon as possible. I, at any rate, accept that such matters need to be considered with care, but I hope that we shall be able to make progress. I certainly recognise the strength of my hon. Friend's views, and the fact that she probably speaks not only for lady Members but for many Opposition Members.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Will the Leader of the House advise us when he expects the Government to be able to make a statement about the White Paper resulting from the President of the Board of Trade's consideration of the pit closures? There is now some suggestion that there will be an unconscionable delay, which will have the knock-on effect of delaying the Government's conclusions to the consultation process set in train on redrawing the assisted areas map. Those are important matters for regions throughout the United Kingdom, and the sooner we get on with them the better.

Mr. Newton

I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the assisted areas map, but he will understand that that in itself is a difficult and complex matter on which representations have come from all parts of the country. Our aim remains to publish the coal review White Paper as soon as we can. As the hon. Gentleman will know, intensive contract negotiations are taking place, and as the President of the Board of Trade told the House yesterday, it is important that the base contracts should be in place so that the House can have a comprehensive view of the position.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement next week on the situation in Bosnia—on the increasing number of atrocities there, on the evidence that they are committed by Serbians from Serbia, and on the fact that United Nations soldiers, including British soldiers, are having to stand by while women and children are killed in front of them?

Mr. Newton

I shall certainly bring that request to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Will the Leader of the House please consider carefully the workings of European Standing Committees A and B? It is often a very long time before the recommendations of the Select Committee on European Legislation come to those Committees, so that the scrutiny that they undertake is not as effective in influencing the outcome as it might be.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has put his point constructively, and I undertake to consider what he said. I have also received representations from a number of other hon. Members who are members of one or other of the Standing Committees about matters such as the balance of work between the two, and I shall consider that as well.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

My right hon. Friend will have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) refer to the warm message of support sent by the Prime Minister for the launch of the Manufacturing and Construction Industries Alliance in the House only a fortnight ago. My right hon. Friend will also be aware of the Prime Minister's warm endorsement of the important role of manufacturing industry in this country in an interview that he gave to The Independent.

Bearing in mind the fact that this sector of our economy can play a major role in our economic recovery, will my right hon. Friend find time for a full day's debate on manufacturing industry in Government time, outside the debate on the Budget? Will he please not refer to the Supply day debate that was initiated recently by the Opposition?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend has sought to second-guess my answer. Given that the House has recently had a full day on manufacturing industry and that it is currently in the middle of a four-day debate on the Budget, which contains a wide range of very welcome measures to assist manufacturing and other industries, my hon. Friend may understand why, although I agree with him about the importance of manufacturing industry, I find it difficult to promise a separate debate.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Would it be a good idea for the Leader of the House to organise a debate on the Government's fiddling of statistics? We could start with the fiddling of the dole queue figures today and the fact that the Government have fiddled those statistics 21 times before. The cost of living figures are fiddled, and now the Government are fiddling the figures for the price reductions in electricity, bearing in mind the fact that they imposed 10 per cent. increases in gas and electricity charges, above the rate of inflation, a few years ago.

We could then explain how the price of coal has gone down by 6 per cent. in the course of the past eight years as a result of the 155 per cent. increase in productivity. That is something straight, to which the Prime Minister never refers, because he would not recognise the truth if it was sprayed on his eyeballs.

Mr. Newton

I should prefer, although I am afraid that I cannot promise this either, to have a debate on the quality of forecasting by Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) said yesterday that he would make one Budget forecast—that, after the Budget, unemployment will rise this month, next month and for months afterwards."—[Official Report, 17 March 1993; Vol. 221, c. 289.]

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

May we have a statement next week on the decision to cut in half the number of British Army bands, whose high standard of excellence is the envy of the world and which, as a part of British tradition, have brought to this country visitors from abroad, whose spending generates income, employment and a tax yield to the Government?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend is obviously referring to the announcement earlier this week by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. I emphasise that new arrangements will be provided for music in support of the Army, based on bigger bands providing a high standard of music.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Will the Leader of the House consider a debate on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Such a debate is urgent, because North Korea proposes to withdraw from the treaty, which sets a dangerous precedent and has increased tension in the region. Some of us are not happy with the Government's record on the treaty, either. A debate would be relevant.

Mr. Newton

I can do no more than note the hon. Gentleman's request; I cannot promise an early debate on the matter.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Can my right hon. Friend hold out the prospect of Report and Third Reading for the National Lottery etc. Bill before Easter? Such news would be much welcomed by many good causes outside the House, as I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees.

Mr. Newton

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is a member of the Committee. Perhaps I should know. If he is, he can give me an up-to-date report on progress. Obviously we shall seek to advance the Bill as soon as possible, but I cannot give an undertaking that we shall do so before Easter.

Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware that yesterday the Fire Brigades Union met the Home Secretary to discuss its pay claim. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to ask his right hon. and learned Friend to make a statement in the House about why he is prepared to ditch the national pay formula which has kept industrial peace in the Fire Brigades Union and in the cities and towns of Britain for the past 15 years?

Mr. Newton

I regularly speak to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and, indeed, have done so on various matters this morning and yesterday. I understand that he met representatives of the Fire Brigades Union to explain the background to the current public sector pay policy and made it clear, as would be widely accepted, that its members cannot expect special treatment. But he also made it clear that no decision had been taken to abolish the 1977 pay agreement.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that several Conservative as well as Opposition Members would appreciate an early debate on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? It is arguably one of the most important international treaties, and we must ensure the maximum possible compliance with it.

Mr. Newton

I cannot say much more than I told the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), but I shall note the request even more now that it has come from both sides of the House.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen)

Will the Leader of the House take an early opportunity to ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether she would be prepared to make a statement to the House on employment practices in the ports industry? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, when the dock labour scheme was abolished, Ministers pledged that abolition would not lead to the return of casual labour to British ports? Is he aware that Southampton container terminal proposes to introduce casual labour on a large scale, with all the job insecurity and dangerous working practices that that involves? Does he agree that the matter should be examined in the House, in view of the pledges that were previously made?

Mr. Newton

If I may answer the direct question that I was initially asked, the hon. Gentleman will probably have observed that, as he was completing his question, I did indeed have a word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week on the important effect on the education of children in Britain of the decision of some teachers to boycott standard assessment tests this year? Should not the House examine the important principle that all teaching and learning should be evaluated to judge what progress has been made in children's learning in order to improve their education, where it can be improved?

Mr. Newton

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and certainly on this side, will share my hon. Friend's views. I can only reiterate that our view is that we need the national curriculum and testing to help pupils and raise standards. We would all deplore any action that would disrupt those important tests.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Before the Budget debate begins on Monday, will it be possible for the Secretary of State for Social Security to make a detailed statement about the Government's plans for assisting, if they are going to assist, people on low incomes, and especially pensioners, once VAT is applied to heating bills? In any such statement, will it not be necessary for the Secretary of State to explain how pensioners who are just above the level of income support can be assisted, because such people, and, of course, the poorest, suffer nightmares even now as a result of their inability to pay to heat their homes adequately? A statement from the Secretary of State is needed before the vote takes place on Monday.

Mr. Newton

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I cannot and shall not attempt to add to the clear statements that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made in the Chamber less than an hour ago.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Could we have a statement early next week on the high-speed rail link as it passes through Kent? There are many environmental apprehensions in Kent which must be dealt with. Likewise, economic opportunities could arise, so could we also have a statement—a glut of statements next week—on the east Thames corridor and the opportunities for regeneration in north-west Kent?

Mr. Newton

I cannot at this stage promise a statement on the latter aspect in the time scale that my hon. Friend seeks. However, I expect my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement early next week on the channel tunnel link following what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in his Budget statement.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire. North-East)

The Leader of the House will he aware that, if someone uses their redundancy money to pay off their mortgage, in order to secure their future, they are liable to lose income support, or a section of it. He may not be aware that the only records kept centrally are on coal miners using redundancy. Records on five such in the Chesterfield area have just started. Should we not debate that matter to find out why there is this peculiarity?

Mr. Newton

I take it, in the best possible spirit, that the hon. Gentleman seeks to raise a matter that is of some importance to him rather than seeking a full debate on it.

Mr. Barnes


Mr. Newton

Well, I certainly cannot promise a full debate. From my experience of social security, I know that I would be rash to attempt a further reply off the cuff, but I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security.

Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not take it as a criticism of his arrangement of the business next week but, bearing in mind the answer that he gave to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), will he reconsider it? Will he consider the subject forecasting, as it would seem that a debate is urgently needed to set the record straight and improve accuracy? Some right hon. and hon. Members seem totally at sea on forecasting, and determined to talk down the prospects for this country, as shown in column 289 of yesterday's Hansard

Madam Speaker

Order. What is the hon. Member's point?

Mr. Burns

The point is, Madam Speaker, that we need a debate next week on forecasting, given that the hon. Members for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) are totally at sea. For the past 24 hours, they have both claimed that unemployment would rise substantially today, when it fell.

Mr. Newton

I do not take my hon. Friend's remarks as a criticism in any sense. I am grateful to him for drawing attention once again to the almost instant inaccuracy of one of the main arguments of an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman yesterday—as I myself sought to do a few moments ago. I guess that the Budget debate may easily provide an opportunity for precisely the sort of debate that my hon. Friend wants.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Would the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or response next week to early-day motion 1439, on the causes of violence in society?

[That this House notes with grave disquiet the growth in vicious and unprovoked attacks on the most vulnerable in society, particularly on women and children; believes these developments stem from a decline in standards of personal responsibility and respect for others, aggravated by the easy availability of violent pornography, including snuff videos, and particularly the promotion of violence on television, which opposes the belief that 'thou shalt not kill' and gives people the liberty to watch murder, mayhem and child-abuse presented as entertainment; and therefore calls on Her Majesty's Government to establish a Royal Commission to investigate the causes of violence in society.]

It calls for the establishment of a royal commission to look into the reasons why there has been such a proliferation of violence. Bearing in mind that the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Basil Hume, also called last week for such a commission, does he agree that the Prime Minister should give the matter urgent attention?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman, whose concern about such matters is well known and widely respected, will know that many of my hon. and right hon. Friends, including the Prime Minister, have expressed concern in recent weeks. I am sure that they will take note of what he has said. If I cannot promise a debate in the way that the hon. Gentleman seeks, it is in part because it is a relatively short time since we had an opportunity to debate crime and its causes.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

Will my right hon. Friend consider an early debate on the regulation of air transport? While many hon. Members on both sides of the House are pleased with the deal between British Airways and United States Air this week, which will be good for both the airlines and their passengers, we are concerned about the apparent threat by the European Commission, which has said that it wants to negotiate bilateral deals through the Commission and not through member Governments.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise a debate, but I note my hon. Friend's concern and will bring the question to the attention of my right hon. Friends who deal with such matters.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)

Can the Leader of the House tell me the future of the King's Cross Railways (No. 2) Bill, which is passing through Parliament? Could he arrange for a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport and an opportunity to debate the issue so that those of us who are worried about links between the channel tunnel and the north of England can be assured that any changes in plans ensure that we keep through routes, which will give us a direct service to the tunnel?

Mr. Newton

Having recently adverted to deficiencies in other people's forecasts, I shall not respond in quite the way that the hon. Gentleman sought, with crystal-ball gazing on the earlier part of his question. I do not need to engage in further crystal-ball gazing to know that he will have an opportunity to ask those questions, subject to you, Madam Speaker, when the Secretary of State for Transport makes a statement early next week.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Can the Leader of the House say when it will be possible for the Accommodation and Works Committee to know whether the Jubilee line extension will go ahead or not? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have waited for five years for a decison, and that phase 2 of the new parliamentary building development would have been completed, and Members of the House accommodated in it, had it not been for the Jubilee line proposals. Is not it time that the Government made up their mind about whether the Jubilee line extension is going ahead, so that the Accommodation and Works Committee can plan accordingly?

Mr. Newton

Given the size of the project, I am not sure that I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the speed with which it would have been possible to accommodate people in that major new building. I cannot add to what has been said on numerous occasions about the extension to the Jubilee line.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Employment washed her hands of the seven-week long Timex dispute and simply noted that the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, ACAS, had not yet become involved. As ACAS has not become involved because the management of Timex will not agree to its involvement, can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Employment next week that outlines what the Government intend to do about an employer who imposes cuts in wages and working conditions, sacks an entire work force for exercising their legal right and then refuses to accept arbitration?

Do the Government simply intend to look the other way while rogue employers wage war on the working conditions of British workers? If that is what they intend to do, they should be warned that, like the Timex workers in Dundee, workers across Britain will fight back. Far from being a recipe for a society at ease with itself, it will be a recipe for a society riven by class and industrial conflict, and that will be the fault of the Government.

Mr. Newton

Without in any way endorsing what I will call the political thrust of the hon. Gentleman's rather tendentious question, I merely note that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has heard his observations direct.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Is there any chance of a debate next week on the public funding of political parties, which would give us an opportunity to discuss the way in which our major parties are financed?

As the Leader of the House is aware, the Labour party publishes its accounts in full; the Conservative party does not. During the debate, we could find out the source of the £17 million-worth of donations that went to the Conservative party immediately before the general election. The Prime Minister will not allow the accounts to be published, and I put it to the Leader of the House that that is because the right hon. Gentleman is ashamed to know that much of that money came from British crooks and foreign fascists.

Mr. Newton

I think that I will respond in much the same way as I did to the question from the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) rather than seek to raise the temperature by responding in similar terms. I do not have any plans for an early debate on that subject.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

When will there be a debate on London in Government time so that Members for London constituencies can raise their legitimate concerns about the lack of an overall elected authority for London that can undertake planning? That debate could also consider the chaos in housing, the current cuts in the number of hospitals and the disastrous proposal to deregulate the London bus service. That proposal has led to strong action by bus workers throughout London to protect the idea of an integrated public transport system in this capital city, for which they have massive support from the people of London.

Mr. Newton

I note the various points that the hon. Gentleman has made. I am unable, however, to promise a debate in Government time in the immediate future on that matter. I am aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House have an interest in the various issues in and around London, so I will bear that subject in mind for when an opportunity may arise.