HC Deb 21 April 1994 vol 241 cc1039-52 3.30 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

Will the Leader of the House be good enough to state the business for the forthcoming week?

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

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 25 APRIL—Until about Seven o'clock, Private Members' motions.

Motion on the Travellers' Allowances Order.

Motion on the HMSO Trading Fund (Amendment) order

TUESDAY 26 APRIL—Second Reading of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 27 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Intelligence Services Bill [Lords].

THURSDAY 28 APRIL—Opposition Day (11th allotted day).

There will be a debate entitled "The National Health Service in London" on an Opposition motion.

FRIDAY 29 APRIL—Private Members' motions.

I am happy to confirm that Monday 2 May will be a bank holiday.

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. I ask him to consider, in the week after the bank holiday, finding Government time for a debate on Bosnia. He will appreciate that it has been some considerable time since that matter has been debated in the House and that a great deal has happened. It is a matter for him and his colleagues, of course, but if the debate were on the Adjournment, it would allow the full range of opinion that exists in the House to be expressed.

Will the Leader of the House also find time to debate early-day motion 1086 on the future of the scientific civil service?

[That this House condemns the fact that decisions about the future of the scientific civil service, AEA Technology, Warren Springs Laboratory, National Engineering Laboratory, National Physical Laboratory and the Laboratory of the Government Chemist have been announced by answers to written questions: is concerned that debate should be conducted in Government time on these important matters; and calls for such time to be made available without delay.]

It expresses considerable concern not only about the difficult future facing the scientific civil service and some very valuable research laboratories in the public service but about the way in which the Department of Trade and Industry is misusing the procedures of the House by slipping out important announcements of that kind in written answers, without any opportunity for debate or scrutiny.

May I also seek statements, first, on the council tax, because of the information that some 2 million people may have been wrongly rated for council tax and are liable to backdating of any payments that may be due if it is reassessed; and secondly, on the position with regard to the opting out of schools? The Leader of the House will know that there is some considerable confusion about whether almost £800,000 of public money has been available for a campaign for opting out, contrary to assurances that the Government gave in the House. He will know also that the Secretary of State now seems to be suggesting—or at least hinting—that, as parents and governors are being so unobliging as not to decide to opt out, the Government will make them. I think that that should at least be reported to the House in a statement.

Mr. Newton

I will, of course, consider the various points raised by the right hon. Lady in the latter part of her question, although I am not sure that I entirely accept her description of the position.

The right hon. Lady mentioned early-day motion 1086. I am grateful to her for, in effect, confirming that my right hon. Friends have kept the House fully informed by replying to a significant number of written questions describing the process. I note her request for a debate; more specifically, I assure her that I have taken careful note of her request for a debate on Bosnia, although I cannot make any commitment at this stage.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

Will my right hon. Friend take note of early-day motion 1057?

[That this House commends the commitment and dedication of the personnel in the Obscene Publications Branch at New Scotland Yard; recognises their unique national role and expertise in investigating child pornography and paedophile rings; notes the ever-growing complexity and volume of computer pornography with which the branch deals; and calls upon the Home Secretary to ensure that the Commissioner abandons any plan to close the Obscene Publications Branch and that this specialist squad is assured a continuing and strengthened place in the Metropolitan Police on the conclusion of the current restructuring review.]

The motion, which is tabled in my name, concerns the proposal to disband the obscene publications squad at New Scotland Yard.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the success of that unit, and its commitment to bringing child pornographers and paedophiles to book? Is he aware of the strength of our belief that the squad should be given more resources and more power within the restructuring process? The proposal to disband it will be applauded by peddlers of pornography throughout the United Kingdom. Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the subject very soon?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Newton

There is clearly a good deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's general comments.

I understand that the Commissioner is reviewing headquarters functions generally, including those of this branch. I assure my hon. Friend that both the Commissioner and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary intend to ensure that any changes help, rather than hinder, the fight against pornography and paedophilia.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Tomorrow's business includes a debate on the Energy Conservation Bill. Will the Leader of the House reconsider the Government's decision to table more than 200 amendments to a Bill to which only five Government amendments were tabled in Committee? Is there not a danger that the new Government strategy is to ignore Committee stages of private Members' Bills, the better to waste the House's time on Report? As Leader of the House, should not the right hon. Gentleman be concerned about that?

Mr. Newton

I understand that the amendments to which the right hon. Gentleman refers are not Government amendments—

Mr. Beith

Fifty of them are in the name of the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Newton

Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman referred to a rather larger number. It is open to hon. Members to table such amendments as they think fit, and I do not wish to take that right away from them. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment made some comments from the Dispatch Box yesterday which I heard; no doubt there will be ample opportunity for a full debate on these matters tomorrow.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that people outside this place find it not only incomprehensible but disgraceful that there has been no debate on Bosnia, given the gravity of the situation there and the fact that we have had so little time to debate it specifically over the past three years? Will he please consider changing the business next week—even Monday's business? Could we at least have a three-hour debate after private Members' motions?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend and I had some informal exchanges about the matter earlier. I pay tribute to him again, and hope that he does not mind my mentioning our earlier conversation. I am aware of the strength of his feeling; he will have heard what I said to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), however, and I cannot add to that at this stage.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Leader of the House aware that a tremendous number of old-age pensioners in every constituency in Britain are complaining about the fact that they cannot obtain fair treatment on the national health service? Will he call on the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement—either tomorrow or early next week—including a commitment that there will be fair and equal treatment for everyone from the cradle to the grave, including pensioners, and that instructions along those lines will be issued to every health authority?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it very clear on a number of occasions that that is indeed our approach to the health service. Let me add that, in connection with one of the cases referred to last week, the Brighton healthcare trust has written to all general practitioners making it clear that there is no policy of discrimination against elderly patients in the provision of the services involved.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

I regret, on behalf of my hon. Friends, that no business was announced for the May day bank holiday. Is it not time that we got rid of that nasty little, unwashed, unloved socialist anniversary?

Mr. Newton

I understand why my hon. Friend asked that question. He will understand why I simply say that I shall be quite happy to have a day off.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)

Will the Leader of the House find Government time next week to debate the crisis in manufacturing industry? Babcock plc announced today that 400-plus jobs are to be lost—many at the Renfrew plant in my constituency, which has lost more than 90 per cent. of its manufacturing jobs in the past 10 years. I am sure that is just a microcosm of what is happening in the rest of the country. Will the right hon. Gentleman find Government time to discuss that crisis next week?

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to find time for such a debate. Her Majesty's Opposition have some time available next week and could change its use if they wanted. I am aware of the job losses to which the hon. Lady referred and acknowledge that that is unwelcome news. I understand that it is part of restructuring intended to ensure the company's long-term future, and that must ultimately be in the interests of all involved.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Will my right hon. Friend find time to discuss with the Liberal Democrats the newspaper article in which their leader welcomed what he described as the Thatcher revolution which has spread economic power, liberated markets and helped the individual? Can time be found for a debate to commemorate that, and the highly original thinking that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has been exploring under the banner of what he terms "Power to the People", which he described as spreading political power? Would not that give us an opportunity to warn the right hon. Gentleman that if he carries through his plan of abandoning our national veto, the only power spread will be the power of the House going to Brussels?

Mr. Newton

My hon, Friend makes two excellent points and encourages me to consider giving time to the Liberals, to provide an opportunity to discuss those matters on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that not only workers but management in manufacturing industry throughout Britain are fed up with the Government turning Nelson's eye to that industry? Will he reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) and find time next week to debate manufacturing industry? Each time there are massive job losses, we are told that it is restructuring to ensure viability—but they are followed by more job losses.

Mr. Newton

While understanding why the hon. Gentleman asked that question, I cannot add to my reply to the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams). When I consider what has happened in recent times in attracting new manufacturing investment to this country and the way that it is generating new trade and exports, I cannot accept that manufacturing industry has been neglected or is going into further decline, in general terms.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

Can my right hon. Friend urgently arrange for a statement next week by a Minister from the Department of the Environment on the approval of Dover harbour board's plans to create new jobs in the port of Dover, which will involve bringing new offices, equipment, supermarkets and shops to Dover, and will be of immense benefit to the town? Will he give all the support that he can, to make sure that decisions that will benefit Dover are brought forward as fast as possible?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise to bring my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to the House for that specific purpose, but I will certainly make sure that he is made aware of my hon. Friend's understandable concern.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) in calling for a debate on Bosnia, and the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) in urging the Leader of the House to change Monday's business to facilitate such a debate. As a major diplomatic effort is under way to find a solution to that terrible crisis, surely the House should be given an opportunity to debate what is occurring and the protection given to so-called safe areas, and to give critics of the Government a proper opportunity to set out their alternatives to Government policy. Will the right hon. Gentleman urgently consider that request, with a view to changing Monday's business?

Mr. Newton

I cannot add to what I have said previously. I have made it clear—this will be the third occasion—that I am listening carefully to the representations that are being made.

Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on the economy, if not next week then the following week? Although the media say nothing about it, there is a lot of good news and some of us on the Government side would like the opportunity of giving voice to it.

Mr. Newton

That question links with one asked of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, about why we have not heard so much about unemployment from the Labour Front Bench recently. The fact is that the increasing flow of good economic news is one of the most striking features of our affairs at present. Of course, I shall look for time when that might be brought to the public's attention more fully.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his earlier answer to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), because some of the amendments tabled by the Secretary of State for the Environment to the Energy Conservation Bill tomorrow will remove Northern Ireland from the scope of the Bill, which hon. Members on this Bench particularly resent?

Mr. Newton

I should not have thought that that comment, while it may undoubtedly lead the hon. Gentleman to wish to make some comments in the debate tomorrow, would sensibly change the answer that I gave to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on tourism? Is he aware that tourism is the world's fastest growing industry, one of the world's most intensive labour industries and the United Kingdom's second largest industry? Is he aware that the last time tourism was debated in the House was one year ago and that on that occasion the Minister responsible promised that he would try to ensure that there was an annual debate? Will my right hon. Friend assist the Minister to make that promise a reality?

Mr. Newton

I recall the debate one year ago, which followed persistent pressure on me at the Dispatch Box of the sort that my hon. Friend is renewing. I hope that I may be able to respond in an appropriate way at the appropriate moment.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Thank you Madam Speaker. Thank you, thank you—[Interruption.] —and thank you again.

Madam Speaker

It is good to see the hon. Member keeping up appearances.

Mr. Faulds

I am most grateful. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate in the House where we can comment on the misguided and damaging conduct of the Governor of Hong Kong, and where we can examine the latest report on China from the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is full of lunacies and which has, unfortunately, been produced by a Committee peopled by ignoramuses?

Mr. Newton

In the light of the hon. Gentleman's phraseology, counsels of caution lead me to fall short of promising such a debate.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be aware of the weekend reports about the serious water pollution incident in my constituency of Worcester. I think that it also affects the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) and for Gloucester (Mr. French). So far, there has been no statement, question or debate on the subject in the House. My right hon. Friend will be aware that when a similar incident took place in London four years ago, a statement was forthcoming very quickly. May I press him for the earliest possible statement or debate in the House on this most important matter?

Mr. Newton

Obviously, I will consider what my hon. Friend says and, indeed, look at the precedent to which he refers. More particularly, I will ensure that his comments are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Though a debate on Bosnia is essential, if there is no debate next week, can we have a statement again on the latest position in Bosnia, bearing in mind that Gorazde is under murderous siege? At least 44 people died yesterday and 137 were wounded. Indeed, the doctor connected with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that people are dying like rats. How much longer can the international community carry on like that when Serbian aggression is at its worst and crimes and atrocities are taking place? At least we should have a statement again as early as possible.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said during Prime Minister's Question Time on the efforts that are being made in those matters.

Even if I have not been able to respond immediately to the hon. Gentleman's requests for a debate, I have demonstrated for many months now that I mean what I say when I say that we will arrange for statements to be made when it seems appropriate.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on drugs and criminality, the need for which is evidenced by the difficulties that the police have had in my constituency in successfully uncovering two drug factories? Will he also use the debate as an opportunity to highlight the activities of the IRA with regard to drugs and to emphasise the weakness of the Opposition's policies on drugs matters?

Mr. Newton

May I first extend my sympathy to my hon. Friend? He is obviously suffering in a similar way to that in which I have suffered in the past week or two. Fortunately, I now seem to be a bit better than he is.

My hon. Friend knows well that the Government attach great importance to preventing drug misuse and to curbing the supply of drugs and the like. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reference to a succesful venture in that field. We also attach importance to any action that can contribute to cutting the flow of funds for terrorism.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the appalling way in which the Tories are running Calderdale council? Is he aware of the chaos in the social services department where there is a £2 million underspend, and yet elderly people cannot get home helps? The council is also sacking wardens and threatening to close old people's homes.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also ask the Secretary of State to look at what the Tories are doing with the green belt policy, as they are driving a coach and horses through it?

Mr. Newton

I will, of course, draw the hon. Lady's questions to the attention of my right hon. Friend. I should perhaps make the point that he was here to answer questions only yesterday.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

My right hon. Friend is probably aware of discussions in the City of London shipping circles about the fact that the British merchant navy register is slowly but surely disappearing out of sight through a lack of numbers. There is a suggestion from the Baltic Exchange that there should be a British overseas register, which would possibly capture a lot of the Chinese shipowners who will have nowhere to go after 1997.

Is it possible to have a debate in depth on the future of the British shipping register? Where do we go from here?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will be well aware that his questions are properly directed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. While I shall not seek to pre-empt his role, I will make sure that the points are brought to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May we have a debate next week on the threat to endangered species? We would then have an opportunity to discuss the threat to the giant land tortoises on Isabella in the Galapagos islands which have been threatened by a terrible fire.

Will the Leader of the House draw to the Prime Minister's attention the reply given to me by his predecessor in March 1985, when I asked her, following a previous fire on the island, whether she would send resources? She acted admirably and quickly with some very good help. Will the Leader of the House say to the Prime Minister today that he should emulate his predecessor in that respect?

Mr. Newton

I must admit that I was not aware of he precedent to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's attention is drawn to the proposal.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Would my right hon. Friend care to have a debate next week on Northern Ireland security? I raise that in view of the death yesterday of an RUC policeman in Londonderry, plus two serious injuries by the IRA. Does he agree that it is appropriate for the House to be given an up-to-date assessment by the Government about counter-terrorism and also, importantly, about our relationship with the Republic in that regard?

Mr. Newton

The House would want me to acknowledge my hon. Friend's question first by extending our sympathy to the relatives of the policeman who was killed yesterday. I would want to say that on behalf of everybody.

As for the rest of my hon. Friend's remarks, I cannot at this moment promise a debate. I draw her attention to the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is due to answer questions next Thursday.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on "Taking Stock" so that the Government can attempt to reconcile last year's theory of paying attention to Scottish interests with this year's practice of sending Scottish Water into quangoland? Does the Leader of the House have any message for the 1 million-plus people in Strathclyde who voted to keep Scottish water under local democratic control? Why should their votes and their voice be less important than the five English Tories who decided every Division of the 102 in the Standing Committee that considered the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill?

Mr. Newton

The message that I would give—not least to the hon. Gentleman—is that the Government will seek to maintain the Union and to ensure that matters pertaining to Scotland are discussed in a way appropriate to the United Kingdom Parliament.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)

Will my right hon. Friend think again about a debate on manufacturing industry so that we may have the opportunity at an early stage to discuss matters such as the minimum wage, the Opposition's approval of the social provisions and the fact that manufacturing industry needs to keep its costs low, which the Opposition would never allow it to do?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend raises several very good points. They are perhaps related to some of the questions that I was asked earlier. It is another excellent idea for a debate. I will bear it in mind.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 963?

[That this House condemns the decision of Leicester Royal Infirmary Trust to increase the rents of new student nurses from £12.25 per week to £32 per week, an increase of 250 per cent.; notes that existing student nurses are fearful and anxious that the proposed rent increases will be extended to them; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Health either to continue to subsidise through central Government funds rents for student nurses or to support an increase in the bursary of student nurses from £83.07 per week to pay for the rent increases.]

It highlights the plight of student nurses at Leicester royal infirmary, who face rent increases of 250 per cent. as a result of unilateral action taken by Leicester royal infirmary trust. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning that decision and arrange an urgent debate so that we can discuss the general principle involved? If he cannot find time in the immediate future, will he draw the matter to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Newton

On the latter point about drawing the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend, of course the answer is yes. I understand that the revised charges include electricity, gas and water and compare favourably with the rented housing market and charges to other students, including university students.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

Now that we have completed all stages of the Finance Bill, will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate about the taxation policies of the Opposition parties? May I draw his attention to the council tax in Colchester and the fact that Essex county council and Colchester borough council, both under Lib-Lab control, received substantial extra grants, yet have still increased the council tax? Does not that show that, whereas we increase taxes only when we have to, the Opposition parties tax at every opportunity?

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has waited a long time to make debating points. We are not on debating points at this stage. We are asking for a debate next week. Will the Leader of the House do his best to reply to the first part of that question?

Mr. Newton

I shall merely make the observation that I, too, am an Essex council tax payer.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Will the Leader of the House please arrange for the Home Secretary to come here urgently next week to make a statement about private security firms? There is considerable concern at some of the cowboys who are going around. Particularly in my constituency, postcards are being handed out on old people's estates which say, "Put this in your window. We will collect £1 a week and we will then guard you." That is an urgent matter and I should be grateful to the Leader of the House if he would draw it to the attention of the Home Secretary.

Mr. Newton

I will draw it to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention, but it is less than an hour since he left the House after answering questions. As it happens, he will be here again next week for the Second Reading of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill. It is not for me to say whether that matter would be in order, but there is always scope for ingenuity.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have a debate next week on the teaching and learning of history, particularly military history, with a view to evaluating immediate responses to great battles such as Waterloo, Trafalgar—

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

And Bannockburn.

Mr. Greenway

Not forgetting Bannockburn. We could evaluate the reaction of people who took part in those battles and their thanksgiving for victories, as well as their wish to celebrate them in succeeding generations. We could also consider the part of lay people in military battles —for example, the contribution of Vera Lynn.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend's question echoes some of the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) during Prime Minister's Question Time. One thing that we can all agree is that all, or most, of those great events—certainly D-day —entailed a huge effort by the whole population, although they obviously entailed special effort and sacrifice by fighting troops.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Is the Leader of the House aware of early-day motion 1075 drawing the attention of the House to the recent Home Office publication, "Fear of Crime", which finds that 48 per cent. of all women and 58 per cent. of women over the age of 60 find that fear of crime blights their lives? [That this House notes the results of the Home Office's Fear of Crime study published on 19th April showing that 49 per cent. of women and 63 per cent. of women over 60 feel 'very' or 'fairly' unsafe when going out at night; considers this to be an unacceptable state of affairs; is concerned by the increasing use of television reconstructions of true life crimes portraying violence against women which are broadcast for purposes other than the apprehension of criminals; and urges the Secretary of State for National Heritage to enter into discussions with television companies to monitor the use of such programmes and to ensure that programme makers are not permitted to exploit and worsen women's fears, understandable in the light of an increase in reported rapes of over 300 per cent. since 1979, of violent crime.]

Would it be possible to have an early debate on the issue, as a growing body of opinion finds that television programmes that attempt to re-create real-life crimes help to feed and foster the fear and perception of crime?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage will shortly be meeting the chairmen of the main broadcasting organisations and the Broadcasting Standards Council to discuss whether all that can be done on that matter is being done.

Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the International Monetary Fund, during which attention could be drawn to the IMF pronouncement yesterday that Britain is one of the few economic bright spots in the world? Perhaps a contrast could be drawn between that and the IMF description of the last Labour Government, when the organisation was the last refuge and listening post of bankrupt Labour Chancellors presiding over rampant inflation, rising unemployment and empty balances.

Mr. Newton

To those of us who lived through the period, the contrast that my hon. Friend mentioned is striking. That underlines the increasing success of the policies that the Government are pursuing.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

Will the Leader of the House please consider a debate on pollution in Liverpool bay and the Irish sea? Does he know of the widespread concern about the increase in deformities of the limbs in new-born children? A lobby is taking place on the matter. Does he accept my great concern regarding Mr. and Mrs. Parry, who live in the town of Buckley in my constituency, whose child has been affected in that way?

Mr. Newton

Of course, I note that request. On behalf of the House, I express our sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's constituents

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the construction industry in view of its excellent performance, especially when compared with the rest of Europe, and the important report that Sir Michael Latham is preparing on contractual arrangements within the industry?

Mr. Newton

I cannot find immediate time for a debate, but I was here during Department of the Environment Question Time yesterday and heard references to that important report, as did my hon. Friend, and of the Government's intention to study it most carefully.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

Will the Lord President consider a debate on the way in which we commemorate events such as D-day? Many other events took place at around that time—they have been forgotten during the recent unseemly debate—including, for example, the fall of Monte Cassino after three months of bitter battle only three days before D-day. Veterans of that episode may feel a little left out of all the debate, which was caused by the Prime Minister's incompetence. May we have a debate on the issue?

Mr. Newton

In his last sentence or two, the hon. Gentleman soured an otherwise reasonable question and I do not accept his view. While it is possible only to stage major commemorative events in response to events of the scale of D-day, we all agree that much was happening in many of those years that deserves our memory and certainly our thanks to the people involved, who fought on our behalf.

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the press, in the light of reports in The Independent on Sunday and the Daily Mirror that branded part of my constituency—the fine community of Blacon—as a no-go area? Those reports are a travesty of the truth and an insult to the good people of Blacon, who meet challenges with good humour, resilience and the will to overcome them. A fine community has been traduced by two national newspapers. May we have a debate next week to explore how newspapers can slander such communities without any justification?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate. I am glad that he has had an opportunity to mention the matter. I am grateful to him for giving me a copy of the press release that he has issued, which, I hope, will help to correct the impression created.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When may we debate early-day motion 1070?

[That this House notes with concern that blinkered ideology and the privatisation of last year's firework safety campaign has contributed to a rise in the number of injuries to over 1,000, a 20 year high; notes that the Government ignored repeated warnings from safety experts and others that the privatised campaign would be a disaster; notes that when civil servants ran the safety campaign firework injuries were less than 1,000; notes that the Government gave the contract to a French company subsidiary, Euro RSCG, and doubled the budget previously administered by civil servants to £160,000; notes that the Minister cancelled the key firework safety booklet, Safer Displays, against the advice of civil servants and to the consternation of Britain's fire chiefs; notes that the fire posters produced by Euro RSCG were so poor that fire departments refused to circulate them and that television advertisements were so ineffective that they were cancelled; calls on Euro RSCG to return the fee they received from the DTI and compensate the victims of firework injuries; requests the National Audit Office and the Committee of Public Accounts to investigate how this campaign came to be privatised and why the spending of public money was so ineffective, and to make recommendations to ensure that future firework safety campaigns are run effectively by experienced civil servants and fire safety experts; and regrets that Ministers are seeking to abolish the licensing of imported fireworks, thus putting the public at risk from potentially dangerous category 4 fireworks.]?

It describes the calamity of the privatisation of the firework safety campaign, which resulted in a double cost to that campaign by a foreign company. It produced material that was unusable and the result was the greatest number of fireworks casualties for 20 years. May we debate the Government's privatisation binge and decide that it has now come to an end, that they are scraping the bottom of the barrel, and that there is no way in which organisations such as Companies House, the Patent Office, the Accounts Services Agency and the Passport Office in my constituency can be sensibly privatised?

Mr. Newton

I think that the hon. Gentleman was straining to get from the point with which he started to the point with which he finished, and I do not accept any general conclusion that he seeks to draw.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Bearing in mind that the objective of the terrorist is to create maximum disruption and inconvenience and provoke over-reaction, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the powers of the police in the City of London are due to be renewed shortly, and will he give the House an assurance that there will be a full debate on the counter-measures that have been taken in the City of London, which have created a great deal of disruption and can be described as having played into the hands of the terrorists?

Mr. Newton

I hear what my hon. Friend says, although I have to say, as someone who travels pretty frequently through the City of London on the roads, that it does not seem to me that disruption has been on the scale that he suggests, or anything like it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, one of my colleagues principally involved in those matters, came into the Chamber while the question was being asked and I am sure that he will have noted what was said.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton)

The Leader of the House must be well aware of the injustices that continue to be perpetrated on my constituents and, I suspect, other Members' constituents, by the Child Support Agency. Will the right hon. Gentleman, as a matter of urgency, ask the Minister to come to the House to make a statement, or seek a debate in the House so that the matter can be reconsidered? He must be aware of the tremendous injustices that are being perpetrated every day, causing undue anguish to hundreds of women and men.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was here, for example, during the last Department of Social Security questions, when many references were made to that, and my hon. and right hon. Friends said that they were keeping the matter under continuing review. He will also be aware that a Select Committee announced this week that it is undertaking further inquiries into the matter.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware of your request, Madam Speaker, for short questions and short answers. Will the Leader of the House therefore ask the Prime Minister to set an example and, especially, next week ensure that he answers questions briefly and that if he wants to make statements he makes them at half-past 3, so that we can have a dignified debate about them?

Mr. Newton

The Prime Minister this afternoon—if that is what the hon. Gentleman has in mind—was asked a clear question by the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition about the D-day celebrations and he answered it clearly and fully. The House is entitled to expect no less. I am sure that my right hon. Friend was right to do that.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Has the Leader of the House examined early-day motion 1063 dealing with blind and partially sighted voters?

[That this House warmly congratulates Camden Council for its innovative initiatives to help blind or partially sighted residents to cast their votes in person in the forthcoming local elections and beyond; welcomes, in particular, the introduction of a Braille template which will allow blind people to read the same information on candidates in each polling station throughout the borough as sighted residents; further welcomes the introduction of ballot papers with enlarged print for people with partial sight or poor vision; commends such initiatives to all councils which wish to ensure equal access to polling stations; and gives its support to the umbrella group, Full Franchise, in its endeavours to persuade the Government to do its upmost to boost voter registration levels and access to polling stations for disabled people.]

It compliments Camden council on action that it has taken to assist such voters to exercise their franchise rights, and compliments the organisation Full Franchise, which also seeks to get disabled people into polling stations. It would seem to be especially appropriate to debate it in the coming week, as we are moving into an election period.

Mr. Newton

I have great sympathy in all respects, other than providing time for a debate, with the hon. Gentleman's question. We encourage returning officers to do all that they can to help in those matters and have issued guidance provided by the Royal National Institute for the Blind on the size and choice of typeface for ballot papers.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

May I join the Lord President in expressing sympathy to the family of Constable Pollock, but also extend it to all other victims of terrorism and their families at this time?

Will the Lord President bear in mind next week's debate on the private Member's motion in the name of the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) and consider allowing free time in the House so that the mind of the House may be carried on the Civil Rights (Disabled People) Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry)?

Mr. Newton

I have not yet seen the terms of my hon. Friend's motion, so I cannot comment further at the moment. I agree whole-heartedly with the hon. Gentleman's introductory remarks.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

May we have a debate next week about the spin-offs of privatisation, particularly the £2 billion worth of contracts that the public utilities have brought back in the past year or two from Latin America alone? During that debate, we could reflect on the fact that had the Opposition been successful in defeating those privatisations, thousands of jobs in Britain would not have ensued.

Mr. Newton

That is certainly worth reflecting on, as is the fact that many of those orders and contracts have followed overseas visits by my right hon. and hon. Friends, not least my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

If it is correct that Scotland has been excluded from the Energy Conservation Bill, which will receive its Third Reading tomorrow, what are the Government's intentions on energy conservation in Scotland?

Mr. Newton

I think that the hon. Lady must be referring to an amendment tabled to the Bill. It is not a decision that the House has made and the right course would be for her to make her point in tomorrow's debate.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

May we have a statement or a debate on the proposed takeover of the Cheltenham and Gloucester building society by Lloyds bank? Many people in the industry believe that it may be just the start of a spate of such takeovers. Unless the Government make a clear statement on the framework that will govern those takeovers, it is feared that competition and, therefore, choice available to the people of this country will be seriously diminished. It is a matter of public interest and we need a clear Government statement.

Mr. Newton

While I will draw those remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends, I am sure that they will give appropriate consideration to any such matter in view of their responsibilities under the relevant legislation.