HC Deb 28 October 1993 vol 230 cc990-8 4.29 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

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

MONDAY 1 NOVEMBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Railways Bill.

TUESDAY 2 NOVEMBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Railways Bill.

WEDNESDAY 3 NOVEMBER—Supplemental timetable motion on and consideration of Lords amendments to the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill.

Proceedings on the following Bills, which are consolidation measures:

Motions relating to the Football Spectators (Designation of Football Matches in England and Wales) Order, the Safety of Sports Grounds (Designation) Order and the Football Spectators Act 1989 (Commencement No. 4) Order.

Motions relating to Members' pay and motion on the Ministerial and Other Salaries Order.

THURSDAY 4 NOVEMBER—Motions relating to a scheme for additional voluntary contributions for Members and to the Parliamentary Contributory Pensions Fund.

Motions relating to the First Report, Session 1992–93, from the Select Committee on Procedure entitled "Parliamentary Questions" (House of Commons Paper No. 687).

Motion relating to financial assistance to Opposition parties.

FRIDAY 5 NOVEMBER—Subject to the progress of business, the House is expected to be prorogued.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows:


Committee B, document No. 6625/93 relating to the special rehabilitation support programme in developing countries.


Committee A, document No. 7825/93 relating to reduced prices for school milk. Committee B, document Nos. 7390/92 and 7133/93 relating to postal services.

[Tuesday 2 November:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community document: 6625/93, Overseas aid; relevant report of the European Legislation Committee: HC 79-xxxiii (1992–93).

Wednesday 24 November:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community document: 7825/93, school milk; relevant report of the European Legislation Committee: HC 79-xxxvii (1992–93).

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents (a) 7390/92, postal services; (b) 7133/93, the single market for postal services. Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee:

(a) HC 79-vi (1992–93); (b) HC 79-xxxv (1992–93), HC 79-xxxvii (1992–93).]

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

I thank the Lord President for that statement. Will he take on board the fact that there is considerable concern in all parties about the Child Support Agency? I think that all hon. Members would welcome an early statement from the Secretary of State for Social Security on the Government's proposals as the present position is clearly unsatisfactory.

May I also draw his attention to the reviews of London's specialist health services? He will recall that in June, or thereabouts, there was a demand for a statement on the reports but that the Government resisted on the ground that time was needed to take them into account, alongside the Tomlinson report and other factors. However, there are now extremely strong and, I understand, well-founded rumours that the Government are ready to come to a conclusion on these issues but are thinking of announcing it in the recess rather than before the House rises. That would be unacceptable to all hon. Members, so I hope that the Leader of the House will advise his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health accordingly.

I remind the Leader of the House that we are still seeking debating time on public expenditure. We give him advance notice that we should like at least one, but preferably two, Supply days before Christmas.

I realise that the following matter may have been resolved, but a number of hon. Members are worried about the business for tomorrow. There have been some rumours about whether or not it can proceed. Many of us regret the fact that the Government chose to discuss the issue on a Friday when some of us who would have liked to be here cannot be. I shall be working a full day, but, unfortunately, I shall not be able to be in the House to vote on the order. Some hon. Members are still worried about whether the business can validly be discussed tomorrow because of the legal position, and it would help us if the Leader of the House clarified that point.

Mr. Newton

The right hon. Lady has asked a variety of questions. As to her comments on the Child Support Agency and her question about an announcement on London's health service, I will of course undertake to consider her requests.

The right hon. Lady asked about public expenditure and Supply days. I was not sure whether the questions were linked or whether the Opposition wished to debate public expenditure on Supply days. I will take note of her request for Supply days in my usual and helpful way. It will be well within the right hon. Lady's knowledge that public expenditure will be dealt with alongside other matters in what will be the unified Budget shortly after the House returns. There will be opportunities to discuss those matters. The right hon. Lady will be aware of the suggestions that both she and the Procedure Committee have made in that respect.

Lastly, as to the right hon. Lady's question about tomorrow's business, I do not accept her suggestion that it is inappropriate to be debating the measure tomorrow; by so doing it will enable us to devote a full day to matters —not necessarily that one—such as the Church which in the past were debated much more briefly and late at night. On this occasion we have a full day.

There has been legal action but the right hon. Lady will be aware that the Church of England authorities today won their case in the High Court. I understand that the High Court indicated that, in its judgment, there was nothing to delay the debate. Nor, I think I can say, is there anything in the procedures or rules of the House. In the end, of course, the question to move the motion is a matter for those concerned with the motion. I know of no reason to put pressure on them and not proceed tomorrow. If it is of any comfort to the right hon. Lady, I, too, was planning to be elsewhere but have adjusted my programme to ensure that I shall be here.

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

I support what the right hon. Lady said about the need for a statement on the Child Support Agency. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widepread concern and considerable confusion, especially in the light of the recent court ruling? It would be extremely helpful if we could have an authoritative statement.

Mr. Newton

I am aware of the concerns expressed in various quarters, as are my right hon. and hon. Friends. I will bring that request to their attention.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I would like to take this opportunity to make that request all-party and say that it is vital that we have a statement from a Social Security Minister next week before Parliament prorogues, because of the widespread misgivings that the legislation in its practical operation is causing in the country. I am sure that Members from both sides and from all parties would welcome such a statement.

I thank the Leader of the House for finding time in this spillover session to find time for an important debate as far as we are concerned on a motion for financial assistance to Opposition parties. It is essential that the Opposition are properly financed as that will enable us to do our job properly. Although it has taken a long time to achieve, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for finding that time.

I hope that we shall be able to welcome the motion on Members' pay. When we see the terms of the motion I hope that it will bear out the assurance that the Leader of the House gave on behalf of the Government that Members' pay will not lose out in terms of the freeze on pay that we have had over the past 12 months.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments about what is known in the trade as "Short money". It has taken a long while to find time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think it a reasonable and just outcome. So far as Members' pay is concerned, I cannot give a precise undertaking about when the detailed resolutions will be tabled; I am not seeking to delay them. I can say in a clear-cut fashion that, in my judgment—though in the end others will wish to bring their judgment to bear—what will be proposed fulfils completely the undertakings that I gave the House at this time last year.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

If it could be arranged, a statement next week on the workings of the Child Support Agency would be ideal. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the creation of that agency had support on both sides of the House? What was designed as a measure to catch up with people who were not honouring their obligations to their children is now being used as an instrument to punish those who are doing their best. That was not intended by hon. Members on either side of the House, and it is essential that we have an early debate so that we can see what can be done to alleviate the distress and anguish that that is causing.

Mr. Newton

The point made by my hon. Friend has been made in other quarters, too—indeed, I note that the matter has now been raised four times in the course of our exchanges today. I cannot add to what I said earlier but I will bring that fact to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. John Cummings (Easington)

The Leader of the House will be aware of certain assurances given to me by the Minister for Energy during questions on the coal statement last week, to the effect that pumping operations at Easington colliery would not cease until detailed investigations had been carried out. It was therefore with alarm that I learnt today that, during yesterday's debate on the coal industry, pumping operations at Easington colliery ceased. That will destroy the colliery, which was up for bids. It may also pollute the main potable water supply in the county of Durham, with consequential effects not just on the people of Durham but on the people of Tyne and Wear. Will the Leader of the House invite the Minister for Energy to come to the House as soon as possible to explain to us precisely what has happened? The pit is being sabotaged and the people in Easington and Tyne and Wear are living with a time bomb.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I am not in a position instantly to make substantive comment on what he said. I can, however, undertake to ensure that the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy is called to the hon. Gentleman's remarks, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will seek to be in touch with him.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week to discuss the ingenious proposal by a Lancaster city councillor that drivers of untaxed cars using city car parks should be fined? That is already done in the constituency of one of my hon. Friends, where such drivers are charged £30. People do not like freeloading scroungers and, if they were fined under such a scheme, which could spread throughout the country, the Revenue would make an enormous amount. In my constituency alone, the Revenue is losing about £130,000. That is in one district. If the scheme operated countrywide, we should make an enormous killing and would not necessarily need to put VAT on fuel.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend's ingenuity is mind bending, as is her optimism. If I may, I will concentrate on the first part of her remarks. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I would be in favour of anything that could properly be done to ensure that people paid their taxes. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has had to leave, but I will ensure that his attention is drawn to that suggestion.

Several hon.Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Will hon. Members keep in mind—as I am keeping in mind—that two minority parties have motions on the Order Paper and that it is right that they should be heard? I ask hon. Members to refrain from making speeches and to ask one question addressed directly to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

When will the Prime Minister make a statement on the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference and so enable hon. Members, including me, to ask what action the Government are taking to persuade the Indian Government to lift the siege of the Hazratbal mosque in Kashmir?

Mr. Newton

Perhaps the most appropriate opportunity to which I can draw attention is Wednesday 3 November when my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be answering questions.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a short debate next week on the Sheehy report, to allow those hon. Members whom you.. Madam Speaker, were unable to call today—no doubt for reasons of time—to make their points, especially bearing in mind my long discussions with my own police force and the long document that I sent to the Home Secretary? My police force were particularly concerned to know that—

Madam Speaker

Order. I want no speeches. The Leader of the House is answering questions.

Mr. Greenway

I am asking for a debate so that I can raise a specific point that was more important to my police force than anything else: they do not want performance-related pay but would accept appraisal if it took account of the fact that someone who arrested—

Madam Speaker

Order. This is an abuse of guidelines that I have just given. Obviously I cannot call all hon. Members who wish to ask questions on a statement or at business questions. Business questions should not be abused. I believe that the Leader of the House has understood the hon. Gentleman's question and I await his reply.

Mr. Newton

I was about to observe, Madam Speaker, that if my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who is known to be assiduous in these matters, remains in the Chamber until you permit me to sit down and waits long enough for the Liberal Democrat spokesman to get through what will no doubt be a short speech, he will have an opportunity to take part in a debate entitled "Prevention of Crime", in which mention of the Sheehy report might well be in order.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the action that he proposes to take to make this place more visitor friendly? For example, why are there notices at the St. Stephen's entrance saying that the public are not admitted, when in fact the public are admitted to Committees that sit upstairs and so on?

Mr. Newton

One of the curiosities of the way in which this place is now run is that the responsibilities that the hon. Gentleman attributes to me are properly those of the Accommodation and Works Committee, which at this very moment is considering ways in which the place can be made—to use the hon. Gentleman's term—more user friendly, not least, to disabled people.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

In the light of the £375 million fine imposed on the Spanish and Italians for their failure to abide by milk quotas, will the Leader of the House find time to allow hon. Members to discuss the enforcement of European Community directives, especially as we now face more of them? Yesterday, I served on a Standing Committee that discussed the waste packaging directive which, if enforced, will add £2.6 billion to the costs of British industry.

Mr. Newton

Much as I would like to, I do not know that I can undertake to find time for precisely what my hon. Friend asks but I can assure him—as is clear from everything that the British Government said and did in respect of the Maastricht treaty—that we are determined to do everything possible to ensure that Community legislation is enforced uniformly among all those who sign up to it.

Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)

May I draw to the attention of the Leader of the House the fact that, since tabling early-day motion 2436 on the Child Support Agency, I have been approached by a considerable number of hon. Members whose postbags, like mine, are swelling with letters on the subject?

[That this House is alarmed at reports of the operation of the Child Support Agency and, in particular, the targeting of those who are already making maintenance payments rather than those who are evading their responsibilities; and accordingly calls for the operations of the Child Support Agency to be suspended until it can be given new and more appropriate guidelines.]

Will the Leader of the House convey to the Secretary of State for Social Security the strong feeling in the House and outside it that this matter needs to be addressed and is causing enormous anxiety?

Mr. Newton

I cannot add to what I said earlier, but the hon. Gentleman has added to the number of mentions of the subject that I must draw to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the conduct of some of the newspapers and film companies and, in particular, on the great offence that is caused to all our constituents when the media pay large sums to criminals and their relatives for their stories? It is time that we had a debate leading to legislation to ban that scandalous practice.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on that precise subject, but I am sure that my hon. Friend's words, which clearly draw support from elsewhere in the House, will be noted by those at whom they were directed.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

Hon. Members will recently have received from the Department of the Environment a document on the creation of the construction sponsorship directorate, which acknowledges that the construction industry contributes one third of our manufacturing base. May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to written question 147, tabled by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), and to early-day motion 2529, which stands in my name?

[That this House notes with concern reports that the bulk of tunnelling contracts for the Jubilee Line have been awarded provisionally to foreign companies; believes this will adversely affect the ability of British companies to compete with foreign competition for future tunnelling contracts such as Cross rail and the Hackney/Chelsea link; is further concerned to learn that Italstrade may be one of the companies involved in the Jubilee contract; and asks the Government to make a statement on the current fraud investigations taking place in Italy into Italstrade.]

My hon. Friend's question and my EDM identify the consequences of the failure to invest in our infrastructure. Will the right hon. Gentleman find time next week for the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House so that we can discuss the implications of such matters for our manufacturing industry?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has drawn a number of matters to my attention. I imagine that he is concerned principally about the Jubilee line, a matter which is also of concern to the House authorities, for reasons that he will understand. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and other Ministers have been working hard on that matter; I shall bring his remarks to their attention.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be aware that my constituents, like those of many other hon. Members, want the Sunday trading issue to be resolved. Subject to what might be in the Queen's Speech, will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that we will at least have the opportunity to vote on this matter before Christmas?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will understand the delicacy of any comment pre-empting the Queen's Speech; but I certainly do not wish to give him an assurance that the matter will not be discussed before Christmas.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Would it be possible for the Government to make a statement next week about their intentions regarding a Select Committee on Northern Ireland? Is the Leader of the House aware that anything that would further divide the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland would be extremely wrong—the more so bearing in mind the bloodshed that is now occurring daily in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Committee will not go ahead—although rumour has it that it was the subject of a deal made by the Prime Minister during the Maastricht debates.

Mr. Newton

The Government have made clear repeatedly that a Select Committee may be desirable in principle. However, that is a matter for the House. I have noted, as will the hon. Gentleman, that the Procedure Committee is re-examining the possible composition of such a Select Committee and, of course, the Government will consider any report which the Procedure Committee produces.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on equal opportunities for men and women, following the disgraceful situation that has arisen following the shadow Cabinet elections? Is it fair that hon. Ladies such as those for Bow and Poplar (Ms Gordon) and for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) should be consigned to the Back Benches for ever because of the sexist prejudices of their male colleagues?

Mr. Newton

That question sounds as if it were calculated to get me to inflame someone about something. I will observe, as others have done, that there is some irony in the fact that a system which was supposed to produce fewer Scots and more women has succeeded in producing exactly the reverse. Whether those who brought forward that proposition had in mind the hon. Ladies mentioned by my hon. Friend is not for me to say. I will say to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) that all of us were pleased that she did not have to get involved in the elections.

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

In the light of comments made by the Prime Minister in the House earlier this week, will there be time for an urgent statement—I am sure that a statement will come—on whether there will be a full and independent inquiry into the Bilsthorpe colliery disaster?

Mr. Newton

That matter was covered at some length, both in the statement last week on the coal industry and in the debate yesterday. I do not wish to add to what was said on those occasions.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

The usual procedure for Prorogation is that Black Rod comes down to prorogue Parliament. Instead of that, can the House have a resolution, subject to debate, about the length of time between Prorogation and the new Session of Parliament which is disgracefully lengthy? All hon. Members could contribute in the usual way to such a debate, and the wide-ranging concerns about the Child Support Agency could be raised. The concerns primarily involve a change of policy from pursuing irresponsible fathers who are not paying maintenance to pursuing the easy targets of fathers who are responsible, who are accepting court decisions and who are making maintenance payments. Those fathers are now subject to an unprecedented, vicious and unscrupulous attack, which will wrest every last penny from them and prejudice their new families.

Mr. Newton

If I may leave aside the first part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the forthcoming recess, or whatever one wants to call it, I will take note of the second part of his remarks along with those words uttered earlier by other hon. Members on the same subject.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Scotland or Secretary of State for Health to make a statement regarding a rumour in my constituency that I have been trying to check out? The rumour is that one of the local hospitals is burning toxic waste commercially. Will the Government state whether there is any truth in the rumour that other hospitals in the country—either trust or national health service—are using their incinerators to burn waste commercially?

Mr. Newton

I am not in a position to provide immediate substantive comment on that matter, as was the case with an earlier question. I will bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)

When will the House have the promised debate and statement on the Minerals Planning Guidance No. 3 and its revision?

Mr. Newton

I cannot at present give the hon. Gentleman an exact date, but I will look into the matter for him.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Scrutiny by hon. Members of the actions by Ministers at meetings of the EC Council of Ministers is very important. Ministers must act on occasion upon the decisions of Standing Committee A and Standing Committee B, and upon decisions which have been passed by the House. For that hon. Members require information on what is happening in the Council of Ministers meetings.

At the Edinburgh summit of Heads of State it was said that a record of the votes at Council of Ministers meetings would become available, and some figures were starting to come through in parliamentary answers. There has now been a decision by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Council of Ministers that, in future, votes will be published only if a resolution has been tabled about a vote and if that resolution is not then blocked by a majority of the Ministers present.

Is not that a serious situation, and should not there be a statement from the Prime Minister about how that can be done in line with the decision taken at the Edinburgh summit?

Mr. Newton

For the second time in the exchanges today, I will say that the sensible course is to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be here next week to answer questions.