HC Deb 06 May 1993 vol 224 cc293-302 3.59 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 10 MAY—Progress in Committee on the Finance (No. 2) Bill, first day.
  • Motions relating to the National Health Service Orders. Details will be given in the Official Report.
  • TUESDAY 11 MAY—Progress in Committee on the Finance (No. 2) Bill, second day.
  • Motion relating to the Sea Fish Licensing (Time at Sea) (Principles) Order.
  • WEDNESDAY 12 MAY—Progress in Committee on the Finance (No. 2) Bill, third day. The House will be relieved to know that I have no plans as yet for a 24th day.
  • THURSDAY 13 MAY—Committee and remaining stages of the Non-Domestic Rating (No. 2) Bill.
  • Proceedings on the Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Bill.
  • FRIDAY 14 MAY—Private Members' Bills.
  • MONDAY 17 MAY—Until seven o'clock, private Members' motions.
  • Motion relating to the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill.
The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

The House will also wish to know that, on Wednesday 12 May at 10.30 am, European Standing Committee A will meet to consider an EC document relating to the fisheries agreement with Argentina. and European Standing Committee B to consider the Commission green paper on Community action regarding the media.

[Monday 10 May:

Wednesday 12 May:

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the Leader of the House for that information. The Opposition undertake to facilitate the passage of the Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Bill, because we understand the urgency of the position and support the Government's aims in this respect.

May I remind the Leader of the House of the length of time that has elapsed since we had an Opposition supply day? We have made repeated requests for a debate on the public expenditure programme. We hear almost daily of the Chief Secretary's desire to cut a programme that we have not had a chance to debate. If we had a chance to assess the shape of the programme, it would also give us an opportunity to focus on the waste and mismanagement over which the Government are presiding.

That was further revealed in evidence about the Wessex health authority which was given to the Public Accounts Committee only the other day. It is now suggested that over £60 million was wasted. This was drawn to the attention of three successive Secretaries of State—indeed, I believe the Lord President himself gave some parliamentary answers on the matter—but they did not act, although the Department's auditors were warning about the situation that was developing. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the present Secretary of State to make a statement about this, and also what is happening with regard to small pharmacies, which are increasingly under threat as a result of Government proposals?

May I remind the Leader of the House that—although he did not exactly give an undertaking—he did suggest that there might be some time after Easter for a debate in Government time on the White Paper on stock-taking with regard to the legislative arrangements for Scotland. He has given some indication that he will look at it; I hope that he will look at it again.

Mr. Newton

On the right hon. Lady's request for an Opposition supply day, she knows that I am sympathetic and will look for an opportunity to meet her wishes as soon as possible. It was also an Opposition wish that we should spend quite an extensive amount of time on the Finance (No. 2) Bill, and the announcement that I have just made meets that request. I do not think that I can be so forthcoming about her request for a debate about what amounts to speculation about public expenditure. Some reference to that may well he in order—subject to your ruling, Madam Speaker—during the debates on the Finance (No. 2) Bill, but the proper time to debate such matters is when there are some definite proposals. As to the stock-taking point, I will consider what the right hon. Lady has said, but I cannot give any immediate commitment.

Let me say—on behalf of the whole House, I am sure—that I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady and her right hon. and hon. Friends for the attitude that they have adopted over the Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Bill. The spirit in which she made those remarks is much appreciated by the Government and, I am sure, by others.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

May I add my voice to the request of the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) for a statement on or clarification of the Government's policy towards small pharmacies? The policy, as I understand it at the moment, is just a touch puzzling. Clarification would be helpful. I am in favour of small pharmacies.

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's remarks. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will also take note of them. I shall draw his request to her attention.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

In the light of the debate that is to be held on 14 May on a private Member's Bill, promoted by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), to reform the Shops Act 1950, and in the light of the concessions that the hon. Gentleman made in Committee, can the Leader of the House say whether he has yet had a chance to consider the nature of those concessions and whether he will now provide time to enable that Bill to proceed? Has he seen the early-day motion that has been signed by 248 Members in all parts of this House?

[That this House notes the recent rulings of the European Court and the House of Lords upholding the Shops Act 1950; now demands that major national retailers set an example by closing their stores on Sundays in observance of the rule of law and in recognition of the sovereignty of Parliament; and urges the Government to support the honourable Member for Ogmore's Shops (Amendment) Bill which received a majority of 173 at Second Reading on 22nd January and which was amended in Committee to make it a compromise solution so that it both meets the reasonable needs of consumers, including DIYs, garden centres as defined by the Horticultural Trades Association and convenience stores up to 3,000 square feet in size, and substantially maintains the special character of Sunday.]

The motion urges the Government to provide time to enable this legislation to go forward. Will the Leader of the House lay a motion before the House, if necessary, to test the opinion of the House on deregulation so that, once that is disposed of, this Bill can become the Government's own Bill and can be promoted without any further delay and this crazy situation, in which the law is being broken by the day, can be rectified at last?

Mr. Newton

I have of course noted the early-day motion, but I have no plans for action along the lines that the hon. Gentleman suggests. The Government's position over a long period regarding the provision of Government time for private Members' Bills is well known. I do not anticipate any change. Equally, the Government's position on the whole issue, and their intentions, is well known; it has been clearly and repeatedly stated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. The Government intend to bring before Parliament their own Bill, providing a choice for the House on the main options for the reform of Sunday trading.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Can I ask my right hon. Friend for a debate next week on the laws that cover the licensing of people to hold guns so that I may raise the case of a constituent who was allowed to hold a gun under licence, despite the opposition of his wife, who repeatedly wrote to the authorities saying that she was very frightened? She was shot dead by her husband last week. He then shot himself in front of their nine-year-old child, to the devastation of the family and the community. Is there not something wrong with these laws and should not something be done? Certainly this House ought to discuss the matter.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that everyone who has heard what my hon. Friend has just said will join him in his concern about that particular case and its tragic consequences. I cannot, nevertheless, promise a debate. However, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, within whose area those licensing matters come, will be here to answer questions on Thursday 13 May.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Can we have a ministerial statement to the House next week on the bureaucratic disaster of the Benefits Agency, about which the Social Security Select Committee reported yesterday? Is it not disgraceful that, in so many cases, payment of benefits was delayed until long after the disabled applicants had died? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people are describing what has happened as one of the worst cases of maladministration in living memory?

Mr. Newton

The right hon. Gentleman—above all, perhaps—will be aware not only of the Select Committee's report but of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People is studying that report in detail and will be replying to it. it would not at this stage be proper for me to anticipate his reply to a Select Committee report.

Sir James Kilfedder (North Down)

I am deeply disturbed about the cuts imposed by the Eastern health and social services board for health service provision in my constituency of North Down, particularly the hospital cuts. Can the Leader of the House provide time urgently to debate this vital issue, which is of such concern to my constituents?

Mr. Newton

I cannot immediately undertake to provide time for a debate, but I can of course—and do—undertake to bring the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Would it be possible for the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary to make a statement early next week about Mr. Nadir—certainly if he does not return to this country? Is it not absolutely essential, in the interests of justice, to counter the view that is held by many people outside this place, that a person in much humbler circumstances would not have been able to flee the country and justice, and then boast about it immediately after he had done so? A statement by the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary is absolutely essential.

Mr. Newton

There seems to be a good deal of unanimity in the House this afternoon. I think that everyone would deplore what happened and support my right hon. Friends in doing everything that they can to achieve Mr. Nadir's return to this country. That said, I cannot promise the statement that the hon. Gentleman wants, but I can happily say that, on two successive days next week, those people to whom his question was most clearly directed will be here to answer questions—the Foreign Secretary on Wednesday and the Home Secretary on Thursday.

Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the crossrail project, which will have a considerable effect on a number of constituencies, including my own. Can he give any idea of when he feels that the measure may be presented to the House in the shape of a Second Reading?

Mr. Newton

I hope that that will not be delayed too much longer, but I cannot give an immediate undertaking, let alone a date. My hon. Friend, whose interest in the matter I well understand, will be aware that consultants were asked to re-examine the crossrail proposals to ensure that the project can be taken forward as a joint venture with the private sector. They have just completed their re-examination, and my right hon. Friends are considering their conclusions.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate next week on my early-day motion 1947, which has already been signed by more than 100 people?

[That this House recalls the pledges made by the President of the Board of Trade on the consultative processes in the 10 pits, and equally remembers the pious utterances of concern expressed by British Coal; and therefore calls upon the former to condemn, and the latter to cease, the practice of blackmailing miners into voting for closures by placing artificial and very short time limits for the receipt of enhanced benefits, as exemplified in the Grimethorpe closure.]

In particular, can he ensure that the President of the Board of Trade speaks from the Government Dispatch Box to assure us that he stands by his clear and unequivocal promises to the House that enhanced redundancy payments would be maintained until the end of the normal consultation period, and that, before the closure of any pit, it would at least be offered for sale to private enterprise? It is proposed that Grimethorpe pit should close on Monday, so the matter requires some urgency.

Mr. Newton

While I cannot promise the debate that the hon. Gentleman seeks, I can as ever undertake to ensure that my right hon. Friend is aware of what he has said. British Coal's assurances still stand—its redundancy terms will be calculated on earnings before the October closure announcement or up to the date of redundancy, whichever is greater.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his announcement that the House will have the opportunity next week to progress the Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Bill, and welcome the support given to the measure by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett)?

Is it intended that all stages should be passed next week? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to encourage commerce and industry to avail themselves of that important facility is for the House to give the measure a speedy passage? Having visited Bishopsgate today for a second time, and seen the devastation, may I ask my right hon. Friend to take the opportunity to send the good wishes and congratulations of the House to the police and contractors who are working to restore normality to the area?

Mr. Newton

The answer to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question is an unequivocal yes. On the first part, in announcing the business as "proceedings on" the Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Bill, my phrasing was intended to indicate the hope that we would be able to complete all the stages.

Mrs. Beckett

indicated assent.

Mr. Newton

Once again, I am happy that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is nodding in a highly responsible and helpful fashion.

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

As always.

Mr. Newton

Or as she mostly is, but I am happy to see that that is her hope, too.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House press the Attorney-General to make a statement next week about the criteria that the courts observe when granting bail? Does he agree that many people suspect that there are two laws: one for the rish and powerful with friends in high places, who are often facing serious charges and are granted bail which enables them to skip the country with ease; and another for poorer people without such influence, who are often facing minor charges and are banged up on remand for months and invariably acquitted when they at long last reach the courts? Is that not an intolerable situation, and do not the courts need clear guidance on the criteria that they should observe?

Madam Speaker

Order. Before the Leader of the House replies. may I again make a plea to hon. Members to be brisk with their questions? I attempt to call all hon. Members but I cannot do so if some make long statements and comments instead of asking direct questions.

Mr. Newton

I must make it clear that I know of absolutely no basis for some of the suggestions and implications in the hon. Gentleman's question. However, he will know that there is concern about bail affecting people of all types and in all conditions reflected in the support from all parties, which has been expressed in the Chamber several times in recent weeks, for the Bail (Amendment) Bill, sponsored by one of my hon. Friends.

Madam Speaker

Mr. Cran.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Christopher Gill, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Gill

I am sure that it was the sun in your eyes, Madam Speaker.

Will the Leader of the House consider early-day motion 1950, which I and a number of hon. Friends have signed and which refers to a bilateral treaty between the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation which will be ratified within the next few days?

[That this House asserts that ratification of the bilateral Treaty with the Russian Federation, laid before this House on 1st April, which requires that relations between the two countries be governed in particular by their commitments under CSCE documents, would be inconsistent with ratification of the Maastricht Treaty which requires Britain's external relations to be governed by the Common Foreign and Security Policy.]

Will my right hon. Friend give the House the opportunity to debate these matters and, in particular, to establish the relevance of that bilateral treaty, and the other bilateral treaties which Russia has signed with other European countries, to NATO and other institutions of the western European community?

Mr. Newton

I have noted my hon. Friend's early-day motion. The note that I have is to respond by saying that there is no inconsistency—if that is what my hon. Friend is getting at, which seems possible—between the United Kingdom's obligations under the bilateral treaty with the Russian Federation and its obligations under title V of the Maastricht treaty.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have a debate early next week on the Serious Fraud Office so that we can discuss its failure to hold Asil Nadir even though I understand that it was notified of his imminent departure? May we at the same time have a debate on the Government introducing legislation to require political parties to publish their accounts, and thereby remove some of the sleaze around the Tory party?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will have heard the exchanges during Prime Minister's Question Time. I should be more willing to respond to the hon. Gentleman's latter point if we were hearing rather more about the late Mr. Robert Maxwell, and if there were perhaps some contribution from the Labour party to the pensioners' funds.

As for the first half of the hon. Gentleman's question, he will be aware that the circumstances in which Mr. Nadir left the United Kingdom are currently under investigation, and I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to predict or speculate on the outcome.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Transport to give a clear explanation next week of why British Rail is being allowed to increase its fares for Regional Railways, with no notification to passengers and in advance of privatisation, thus driving more people off the railways?

Mr. Newton

The House is likely to have considerable further opportunities to debate railway transport matters in, I hope, the not too distant future. I would not wish to excite the hon. Lady's hopes of a statement of precisely the type she seeks, but I shall bring her request to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the dispute in Hampshire social services about the qualifications of foster parents because two lesbians have been allowed to adopt a child? May we have a debate on this very serious matter, which does not seem to be getting the necessary exposure in the House but which is becoming increasingly prevalent?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will be aware that the law relating to adoption is primarily the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who, I am sure, is aware of the matter that he has raised. However, I shall bring his question to her attention.

Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley)

The Prime Minister's comments this afternoon about Government policy on paying pensions through banks and building societies seemed to contradict answers previously given in the House by the President of the Board of Trade. In view of many pensioners' fears about possible closures of sub-post offices, and of the apparent confusion in Government policy, will the Leader of the House find time next week for a statement on that important matter?

Mr. Newton

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made some fairly clear-cut remarks on that matter only an hour or so ago, I cannot see a basis on which I could sensibly ask for a further statement next week.

Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

The Leader of the House will be aware that elsewhere in the country people are voting in county council elections today. Yet the 7 million people in London have been denied that right—denied the opportunity to vote for an authority in London. Will the right hon. Gentleman make time available for us to debate the democratic rights of Londoners, so that we can discuss the possibility of a strategic authority for London, which would give Londoners the democratic right available to everyone else in the country—the right to vote for their own authority?

Mr. Newton

Having voted in Essex at about 10 seconds past 8 o'clock this morning, I fully appreciate such democratic opportunities. However, I do not detect any massive agitation in London for the opportunity to vote for the Greater London council again.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

The Leader of the House will know of the concern felt about the oil tax changes that we shall debate next week, with 10,000 or more jobs at risk. Although a Committee of the whole House will debate clause 183 of the Finance (No. 2) Bill, relevant amendments to other clauses may follow on from amendments made to that clause. Can the Leader of the House guarantee that, if such an amendment is passed, the Government will accept the consequential amendments in Committee?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman is asking me to become involved in some rather detailed procedural issues concerning debates that may take place next week. I shall be rather cautious about doing so. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the intention is that the main clause dealing with the petroleum revenue tax should be debated in the House on Tuesday. I have no doubt that, were consequential amendments to arise, the Government would take the appropriate action, or recommend such action to the House.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Further to his reply concerning the Shops (Amendment) Bill and early-day motion 1929, which carries 250 signatures of right hon. and hon. Members, will the Leader of the House consider whether the Attorney-General could make a statement next week about those who continually break the law, although the Law Lords have already made a definite decision to uphold the Shops Act 1950? When will the Government ensure that that law is enforced in this country, as they try to enforce the laws on other matters?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman knows that the primary responsibility for the enforcement of the law on that matter rests with local authorities. I shall, of course, bring his request to the attention of the Attorney-General, but I am afraid that I cannot add to what I said earlier to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton).

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

The Leader of the House may be aware that controversy has burst out again concerning the unique Scottish verdict of "not proven", used in criminal trials. The controversy has contemporary significance in connection with the tragic case of the murder of a young girl in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson).

So far, the Government have refused to act until the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure in England and Wales reports, but that is an extraordinary pretext when used by those who glory in the independence of Scots criminal law. In order to maintain that independence and integrity, will the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State for Scotland ensure that we have a debate soon on the "not proven" verdict?

Mr. Newton

I am afraid that I cannot encourage the hon. Gentleman in the expectation of a debate on that matter, but no doubt he will find various ways of pursuing it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

May I press the right hon. Gentleman further about the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)? In the light of the facts that the Serious Fraud Office has now admitted that it was tipped off on Saturday night that Mr. Nadir might leave the country, and that the police say that they took appropriate action—many of us think that the action cannot have been entirely appropriate, as Mr. Nadir is not here any longer—does not the Leader of the House think it important for the appropriate Minister to make a full statement about why the authorities, having been put on their guard that there might be a problem, were apparently unable to prevent that man from leaving the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Newton

I will, of course, bring that question and the earlier question to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. However, I am not going to go beyond what I said earlier. These matters are under investigation, and I do not think that it would be right for me to speculate about the outcome or to draw immediate conclusions.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)

May we have a debate on the salaries of Members of Parliament and of Ministers? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if the words of the Maastricht treaty mean what they say, over the next five of six years there will be a gradual transfer of powers from this House to Brussels and, morally, there should be a commensurate reduction in the salaries of Members of Parliament accordingly? If my right hon. Friend thinks that I am wholly wrong in the analysis, is he prepared to bet the level of an MP's wages that I am wrong?

Mr. Newton

I think that the only response that I can make to that is that I am glad that my hon. Friend appears to have exempted Ministers from his proposals.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. We must now move on. I am not prepared to call the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) who has already been called in business questions. As for the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), I understand that he sent apologies to the Chair in respect of the fact that he was outside the Chamber working when the statement was made. I cannot accept that, because, if I did, I would have to accept such a reason from hundreds of hon. Members who went into the Library to work and then returned to the Chamber wanting to ask a question. I know that the hon. Member for Linlithgow is a very experienced parliamentarian and that he entirely understands my reasoning and will accept it.

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