HC Deb 13 May 1993 vol 224 cc952-61 4.13 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 17 MAY—Until seven o'clock, private Members' motions.

Motion relating to the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

TUESDAY 18 MAY—Motion for the spring Adjournment.

Remaining stages of the Foreign Compensation (Amendment) Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 19 MAY—Opposition day, 12th allotted day. Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate described as "Automated Credit Transfer and the Threat to Sub-post Offices", followed by a debate described as "The Destruction of Britain's Defence Industrial Base". Both debates arise on Opposition motions.

THURSDAY 20 MAY—European Communities (Amendment) Bill, Third Reading.

FRIDAY 21 MAY—Debate on Government support for exporters, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 24 MAY—Progress on the remaining stages of the Railways Bill.

The House will also wish to know that, on Wednesday 19 May, at 10.30 am, European Standing Committee A will meet to consider EC documents relating to the slaughter of animals, and European Standing Committee B to consider documents on the protection of young people at work.

[Wednesday 19 May:

European Standing Committee A

Relevant European Community Documents: 9880/91 10306/92} Slaughter of animals

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee: HC 24-x (1991–92), HC 79-xxiii (1992–93), HC 79-xvi (1992–93), HC 79-xxviii (1992–93) HC 79-xix (1992–93),

European Standing Committee B

Relevant European Community Documents: 5378/92 4690/93} Protection of young people at work

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee: HC 79-iii (1992–93), HC 79-xxvi (1992–93), HC 79-xxiv (1992–93), HC 79-xxviii (1992–93.]

Lastly, I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House to know that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the spring Adjournement on Thursday 27 May until Monday 7 June. In case anyone has forgotten what was announced provisionally, I point out that that means one day's extra holiday.

Mrs. Beckett

I feel sure that the House will wish to thank the Leader of the House for his statement. I had not forgotten what was originally announced, but it is useful to be reminded. Am I right in assuming that there will be no parliamentary questions on the Thursday on which the House rises for the Whitsun recess?

On a number of recent business question days the Leader of the House has been good enough to say that he is trying to keep up a record of accepting one of our proposals a week, so may I offer him this week two long-standing options from which to choose? First, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, we are seeking a debate in Government time on two Scottish issues, one of which is the important issue of water privatisation in Scotland, on which yet again fresh conflicting statements seem to be coming from the Scottish Office and elsewhere. As for the second Scottish issue, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have sought a debate in Government time on the White Paper on what the Government call the stocktaking exercise concerning powers in Scotland.

My second range of options involves defence. Despite the fact that we are devoting half of our Supply day to defence, we are aware, as we feel the Government should be, that it is now two years since we debated the defence estimates. The Leader of the House will be aware that such a form of debate offers an opportunity for wide-ranging discussion, and I am sure he knows that it has been suggested that the Government have avoided scheduling a debate for such a long time because they feel some embarrassment at the criticisms that they may face, perhaps even from their own party. However, I know that the Leader of the House takes the view that it is not up to the Government to run away from parliamentary scrutiny of difficult issues and that, indeed, they should ensure that the opportunity is offered. Especially in the light of what has happened to Swan Hunter today as a result of some defence decisions, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider finding time for a debate.

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends consider keeping the House informed by means of updating statements on the position in Bosnia?

Mr. Newton

I thank the right hon. Lady for the generally constructive spirit in which she again seems to approach her task, and for her kind comments about the constructive spirit in which she, rightly, thinks that I am approaching my task.

I shall take the right hon. Lady's questions in reverse order. I can certainly give her a general assurance that if it seemed right that a further statement should be made about significant developments concerning Bosnia, I should of course seek to arrange that.

I can assure the right hon. Lady that there is no question of the Government's seeking to avoid embarrassment on the defence estimates. The difficulty is that of fitting in the debate, but I shall certainly seek to do so, and we can continue to discuss the matter through the usual channels. The right hon. Lady's question was perhaps a little unkind in view of the fact that several days have been made available for discussing defence matters over the past month or two. If the anxiety was about embarrassment, I do not think that we would have scheduled those as we did.

The debates that the right hon. Lady seeks on Scottish matters, too, should be further discussed through the usual channels, although in the case of water privatisation it would seem to me to be more sensible for a debate to take place when the Government have reached and announced conclusions.

In response to the right hon. Lady's specific first question, I can confirm that it is not proposed to take questions on Thursday 27 May.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 1877 on fairer trade with the third world?

[That this House recognises that fair trade is as important as aid in tackling Third World poverty; notes that the Multi-Fibre Arrangement, which directly discriminates against poor countries' clothing and textile exports, denies poor people vital jobs; further notes that the EC has already agreed to start lifting quotas on clothing and textiles from East and Central Europe despite the failure to conclude a GATT agreement, while restrictions against the world's poorest countries have been extended once again; believes that the British Government, through its participation in the EC, the GATT negotiations and the G7 Summit in Tokyo this July, is well placed to take a lead in lifting trade barriers which discriminates against poor countries; and therefore urges Her Majesty's Government to press the EC to start the 10 year phase out of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement, bringing out the poorest countries first and fastest.]

Does he agree with me that, although it is entirely right that the House should be concerned about the crisis in the former Yugoslavia, many millions of our fellow human beings throughout the world are suffering poverty, malnutrition and starvation as a result, in large part, of the unfair trading patterns in the world? Will he find time for an early debate in the House on this matter?

Mr. Newton

While I cannot promise my hon. Friend the early debate that he wants, although I will certainly bear in mind his request, I can most certainly join with him in the general proposition that an open multilateral trading system is of great importance to what is called the third world. Indeed, it is for that very reason, among others, that we as a Government, and I think the whole House, place so much importance on a satisfactory conclusion to the GATT round.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

May we have a statement this week, or at the latest next week, on water privatisation which in England and Wales has led to about 50,000 homes being disconnected and 10,000 cases of dysentery? In view of the recent reports about a possible Government U-turn on Scottish water privatisation, may we have a clear and unequivocal statement at the earliest opportunity that Scottish water will remain in full public ownership, otherwise water privatisation will do for this Government what Watergate did for Nixon?

Mr. Newton

I cannot add to what I said, partly explicitly and partly by implication, to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett). All the options set out in the consultation paper called "Investing for Our Future" are being considered, and the appropriate time for debate, in my view, is when conclusions have been reached.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find just a short slot to enable hon. Members to pay a tribute to our late hon. Friend Robert Adley? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.] He was my neighbour in the House and my near neighbour, and I frequently had the honour and pleasure of driving him to and from the House, particularly on days when he was far from well. He was one of the great characters of the House, a man of great courage, strength and determination. His wife Jane has been through it these past few weeks. I am sure that we would all like to send love to her and expressions of support to her family.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that you agree, Madam Speaker, that the response from both sides of the House to my hon. Friend's remarks shows that he is exactly right, and I feel that you too will wish to be associated with them. I certainly wish to be. I had a huge regard for Robert, and I believe that he will be missed on both sides of the House.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does the Leader of the House agree that, if sufficient members of the public in Denmark go along with the view of Her Majesty's Government that the Edinburgh decision makes no change whatsoever in their citizenship or national obligations, there may be need for a statement adjusting the business for a week today? Will he undertake that, if there is no acceptance of the question that is being posed to the Danes, that business will be changed?

Mr. Newton

I certainly do not anticipate that need, but obviously Her Majesty's Government always consider changes in circumstances as may be appropriate.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

My right hon. Friend is no doubt aware of the great concern felt by several hon. Members at the delay in the Second Reading of the Crossrail Bill. There is a lot of interest among my constituents in Chesham and Amersham and also by the corporation in London, and increasing concern about the delay. I hope that, as the consultants' reports are with Ministers, my right hon. Friend will give an undertaking that the Bill will be brought before the House very soon.

Mr. Newton

I am certain that my hon. Friend is aware of some observations that I made on that matter last week. As she rightly says, the consultants' report has been received and my right hon. Friends are considering its conclusions. I am afraid that I cannot today, much as I would wish to have the chance to hear her, go beyond what I said last week.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

As the horrors of Bosnia continue unabated, may I press the Leader of the House to press the Prime Minister, as opposed to other Ministers, to make a statement early next week about what action the Government and the international community will take to end all aggression in Bosnia, to secure an effective ceasefire and to defend the so-called United Nations-protected areas?

Mr. Newton

It was within my hearing and, no doubt, the hon. Gentleman's that my right hon. Friend made some further observations—albeit briefly of the sort that are possible in Prime Minister's questions—only a few minutes ago. I should have thought that my right hon. Friend, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and others had made it amply clear over many weeks that they are concerned to do everything that they practicably, possibly and sensibly can to achieve the objectives that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Would it be possible for my right hon. Friend, in the interests of open government, either to arrange a debate or to publish the arrangements by which various Departments bid for time and legislation in the Queen's Speech? There appears to be an ethos, supported throughout the House, that careers are judged on the quantity of legislation that is pressed through the House. If I judge the mood of the country correctly, there is a feeling that there should be a lighter regime altogether.

Mr. Newton

Although that issue is not, as it were, constitutionally tied to my present capacity, my hon. Friend's question is directed to the right quarter as it is a matter of public knowledge that I am Chairman of the Committee, whose initials are FLG, that examines those matters. I hope that when the proposals finally see the light of day my hon. Friend will feel that we have had some regard to his strictures. On the other hand, one has only to be present in this House week by week to know of the number of vigorous demands for legislation in particular that come even from those who are against legislation in general.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Is it not time that we had a debate about the serious crises that are building up in the former communist states? Has the Leader of the House seen the statement by Mr. Dashiyn Byambashurian, who resigned from the Great Hural and from his position as Prime Minister of Mongolia because he feared that the country was returning to communism? The crises in that country—and in many others—of finance, of shortage of fuel and of famine are so serious that the population are moving away from their centrally-heated homes and going back to live in medieval yurts which were used thousands of years ago. Is it not true that Britain, by promoting well-intentioned reforms in the former communist countries, is in grave danger of re-creating the tyrannies that they are designed to destroy?

Mr. Newton

All of us, I am sure, are concerned about many of the stories that we read about some of the countries that have been undergoing political and economic change. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that we shall have a debate on that matter, and certainly not next week.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

On next Wednesday's business on sub-post offices, is my right hon. Friend aware that wild, false rumours are running riot about possible wholesale closures of sub-post offices and the interruption of benefits and pensions? Would my right hon. Friend put on his former social security hat to ensure that the Government have an immediate advertising campaign in newspapers and on television to put the record straight and to state that sub-post offices will remain open and that pensions will still be paid —

Madam Speaker

Order. It is a very good try, but the hon. Gentleman is really asking a substantive question on that matter, which is not now the responsibility or the duty of the Leader of the House. If he asks a question about next week's business, that is another matter.

Mr. Madel

I thought that what I said might help next week's business in relation to Wednesday—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is seeking an advertising campaign. What he should be seeking is a statement in next week's business. Is that possible?

Mr. Newton

I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security to my hon. Friend's request for him to make a particular point about the matter in the speech that he may have the opportunity to make next week. Apart from that, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to what I thought were the clear-cut remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister an hour or so ago.

Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham)

Can the Leader of the House reveal when the Bill on the security services and Government Communications Headquarters will be published? Will he find time for an early debate on the scrutiny of those services because many of the talented people who work in them feel aggrieved that they are unable to answer the allegations contained in newspapers this week?

Mr. Newton

I note the point that the hon. Gentleman makes in the latter part of his question, but cannot promise an early debate on that nor, for reasons that I am sure he will understand—not least because the Government's proposed programme of legislation for the next Session is currently under discussion—can I give him a precise date for the publication of a particular Bill.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

Further to his answer to our hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), will my right hon. Friend convey to his ministerial colleagues the frustration and resentment of my constituents in Aylesbury and many thousands of other people in Buckinghamshire that the crossrail project is subject to so much delay and uncertainty? Will he give Ministers an early opportunity to say that this project has their approval and that they will press ahead with the Second Reading of the Crossrail Bill?

Mr. Newton

I note genuinely that this is the third time that one of my hon. Friends has raised this matter in the course of a fortnight. I am sure that it will also have been noted by my right hon. Friends who, I think rightly, wish to have a proper opportunity to consider the consultants' report. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be here to answer questions on Monday 24 May.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

The Leader of the House mentioned the FLG Committee. He will be aware, therefore, of correspondence between the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster regarding the privatisation proposals for 8,000 jobs in the Scottish Office and a potential threat to up to 50,000 jobs. The letter shows that several Cabinet Ministers are acting in concert to avoid public scrutiny of legislation which they would need for specific functions regarding privatisation and that, instead, they intend to produce an omnibus Bill in the Queen's Speech in October.

Given that what we are witnessing by these covert actions is the possible loss of hundreds of thousands of civil service jobs and the demise of the United Kingdom civil service as we know it, will the Leader of the House consult his colleagues and ensure that there is an urgent and extensive debate on this issue next week?

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake that there will be an urgent and extensive debate on this matter next week, but I take note of the hon. Gentleman's question and will bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Stephen Milligan (Eastleigh)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the successful introduction of the council tax? Is he aware that in my constituency half the people who have telephoned the council are asking why their bills are so low and that the only serious complaint has come from elderly single people living in large houses who, although they face a serious problem, are perhaps not quite aware how much they would suffer if the Opposition's policy were introduced?

May we also discuss the preposterous claim by the Opposition, repeated in two successive party political broadcasts, that the council tax is £14 lower in Labour councils than in Conservative councils? Is not the truth that it is a statistical fiddle and that, if like is compared with like, that is to say, properties of the same value, the true position is that the tax is £107 lower in Conservative councils?

Mr. Newton

On the latter point, it is clear that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who speaks for the Opposition on these matters, has been forced to acknowledge on a number of occasions that the comparisons that he has made are completely bogus, for exactly the reason that my hon. Friend has given.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

That is not true.

Mr. Newton

I have certainly not listened to everything that he has said, but I have read a good deal of it and that is the conclusion that I draw.

As to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, it is a considerable achievement of my right hon. and hon. Friends and also of local authorities throughout the country that the council tax has been introduced as smoothly as it has been.

Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1930 concerning May day?

[That this House appreciates the excellent weather that allowed the British people to celebrate and enjoy May Day on Monday 3rd May; and regrets the mean-spirited attempt by this Government to abolish this holiday, which is both a traditional British festival, and also celebrates the international solidarity of workers; and further deplores attampts to move the holiday into the cold, damp depths of autumn.]

Conservative Members have already commented on the effect that the abolition of the May day holiday could have on the hotel and leisure industry. Will the right hon. Gentleman prevail upon his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to make a statement next week on the future of May day, and perhaps persuade her to take a positive attitude rather than her normal small-minded, petty, spiteful one of any institution associated with working people?

Mr. Newton

Having worked in a ministerial capacity for quite some time with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, when we were both in a previous incarnation, I did not recognise her from the descriptions and adjectives that the hon. Gentleman applied to her. An announcement on the question of May day will be made in due course.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

May we have a debate soon on the comments made earlier today in Baghdad by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) to the effect that he is not there to help in the release of the two British detainees? Is it not very worrying that Iraq is being seriously misled by the two unguided missiles that have been sent there?

Mr. Newton

I hope that my hon. Friend will understand why I hesitate before commenting on a statement reported from Baghdad which I have not had an opportunity to study. Certainly all of us would wish to see an effective effort made to resolve the problem that underlies my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

May we debate again next week the issue of the enforcement of the days-at-sea restrictions on the fishing industry? Does the Leader of the House accept that one hour and 11 minutes on Tuesday night was neither the time nor the place in the agenda to deal with an issue as important as the days-at-sea restrictions? Does not the Leader of the House understand that the fishing representatives who attended the debate felt slighted by the truncated way in which the House dealt with an issue which affects the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen and their families in coastal communities around Britain?

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Gentleman's remarks. There has been substantial debate on this matter in relation to the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1992, which underlay the orders debated earlier this week. The fact is that those orders were debated in the normal way for negative orders. I think that that was proper. I noticed that the hon. Gentleman managed to make substantial remarks in the course of the debate.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

As the Prime Minister's answer about sub-post offices was substandard, is not it as well that we will have an Opposition debate on this subject next week? Why could we not have a debate in Government time as it is the Government's responsibility?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister having said what he said, I cannot quite understand the basis on which the hon. Gentleman makes that request. It is open to the Opposition to choose what they want to debate, and they have chosen that subject.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

May I endorse the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) for a debate on Scottish water, preferably prior to conclusions being reached?

May I push the Leader of the House on the Crossrail Bill and point out that if the Bill does not have a Second Reading in Government time very soon it will disappear? If the Government wish to kill the Bill, they should have the guts to do so; they should not allow it to go by default by not giving time for it to be debated. Many firms throughout the country will be given an economic kick-start if this and other major infrastructure projects are given the go-ahead.

Mr. Newton

I note that I now have a fourth Opposition Member to add to the growing list of Members pressing me on that matter. Nevertheless, I cannot be pushed, to use the hon. Gentleman's own word, any further this afternoon.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

Given that environmental sustainability must henceforth be a fundamental principle in all economic policy, and given that Britain is a signatory to the Rio convention and committed to a sustainable development plan for Britain, will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a debate on this subject—which will be of far-reaching importance for economic policies—preferably before July, when I believe that the draft version of the plan will be published?

Mr. Newton

I can do no more, with the greatest good will, than note the hon. Gentleman's request. The Government acknowledge that environmental issues are of considerable importance, even though they can generate a lot of controversy. I will bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Keith Hill (Streatham)

Will the Leader of the House add another name to the list of those calling for an early Second Reading debate on the Crossrail Bill? Is he aware that the Government's central London rail study identified crossrail as the most beneficial transport infrastructure project for London and that the private and public sectors are eager to push ahead with the scheme?

Mr. Newton

I will add the hon. Gentleman's name to the growing list. I am less sure about his hon. Friend from Wales, who I thought might want the crossrail across Cardiff bay.

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