HC Deb 28 April 1994 vol 242 cc382-95 3.31 pm
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

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)

The business for next week will be as follows: TUESDAY 3 MAY—Second Reading of the Education Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 4 MAY—There will be a debate on the Army on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 5 MAY—There will be a debate on the arts on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 6 MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 9 MAY—Motion on the draft code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs.

Motion on the Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) (Amendment) Order.

Motion on the International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designation and Privileges)(Amendment) Order.

Motion on the Merchant Shipping (Ro-Ro Passenger Ship Survivability)(No. 2) Regulations.

Motion on the Immigration (European Economic Area)Order.

Motion to take note of EC documents Nos. 10166/93 and 11317/93 relating to aid for restructuring the italian steel industry. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion to take note of EC document No. 6703/88 relating to equal pay and equal treatment (burden of proof). Details will be given in the Official Report.

Madam Speaker, the House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee A will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 4 May to consider European Community document No. 11504/93 proposing a council directive on lorry weights and dimensions.

[Wednesday 4 May:

European Standing Committee A—European Community documents: 11504/93, (Weights and Dimensions of vehicles). Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports: HC 48-x (1993–94) and HC 48-xv (1993–94).

Monday 9 May:

Floor of the House—European Community documents: 10166/93 and 11317/93 state aid to the steel industry. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 48-iv (1993–94) and European Community document: 6703/88 Burden of Proof(Equal opportunities) Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports: HC 43-xxxiv(1987–88), HC 15-iv(1988–89), HC 15-xxv (1988–89), HC 79-i(1992–93) and HC 48-v(1993–94).]

Mr. Brown

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and also thank him, although it has taken some robust action from the parliamentary Labour party to secure it, for the belated implicit recognition of wrongdoing in the way in which the Government have trampled on the rights of the House in respect of financial legislation.

Will the Leader of the House now provide time to discuss the Procedure Committee's report on the unified Budget? Perhaps we could discuss that in the context of the views of a former Conservative Treasury Minister who has remarked: As a result of the vigorous efforts of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and his predecessor, we are now reducing the tax system of this country to a state of total chaos."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 April 1994; Vol.554, c.675.] Will the Leader of the House also find time for a statement next week from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the future of social security payments for mortgage interest? It is reported in today's press that the Chancellor plans to abandon social security payments on mortgage interest. The Leader of the House will find it reported just above the headline, Curb Portillo 'Treachery' pals tells PM and alongside the headline, "Major slaps down Ginny".

May I ask—or invite—the Leader of the House to reopen discussions on the Jopling report with the parliamentary Opposition with a view—[Interruption.]—with a view to an early debate on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Newton

I think that I asked you, Madam Speaker, on a previous occasion to confirm whether the use of the word "codswallop" was parliamentary and I think that you allowed me to use it. I wish to apply it again to the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East(Mr. Brown).Indeed, I noted that he could barely keep a straight face while he uttered his words.

My second point, which inter-relates with two of the other questions that the hon. Member asked, is that we could have been discussing the arrangements for the unified Budget and discussing the Jopling report four months ago, but for the fact that the Opposition stopped discussing anything. Of course, I am willing to engage in discussions, as I have been over the past four months, when the Labour party has not been listening. I simply welcome the return of the Leader of the Opposition to the common sense from which I think—I suspect many of his hon. Friends also think—he should never have departed.

Finally, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security announced in the past year some limit on the amount of mortgage payments that income support would cover and that that limit would be further reduced this month, which is exactly what is happening.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I should like one brisk question from each hon. Member and a brisk answer, please.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

Will my right hon. Friend review the response that the Prime Minister gave to the question about the citizen advice bureaux report on the Child Support Agency? Is not there some evidence that there is greater hardship to the second family than benefit to the first? Is not there further evidence that we ought to have a fundamental review of the basis on which so-called absent parents' contributions are assessed, rather than tinkering at the edges, as we have so far?

Madam Speaker

Order. That was a perfect example of how not to put a business question. The hon. Gentleman made an interesting statement, but he has not even asked the Leader of the House for a debate on the matters that he has been discussing. I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking for a debate next week on that matter.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Speaker. While I cannot promise even you a debate on that matter next week, I can make the point that my right hon. Friend has consistently made it clear that he is continuing to keep those matters under close review.

Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

Will the Leader of the House guarantee that more time will be made available to debate the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill if the motion of the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) receives overwhelming support tomorrow? Will he also guarantee that the Government will not sabotage the Bill?

Mr. Newton

As the hon. Lady has rightly observed, there is a debate on that matter tomorrow, but I would not wish to encourage expectation of a departure from the normal procedures of the House in such matters, especially since, in recent Sessions, the Government have consistently invited the House to provide more time for private Members' business than generally provided for by the Standing Orders.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

In view of the relative lightness of the business next week, will my right hon. Friend consider making it possible for the House to have another debate on the important subject of the health service in London, in which it would be possible for Conservative Members to expose the hypocrisy and scaremongering of the Liberal Democrats in talking about hospitals being threatened with closure, such as St. Helier, when there is no truth in the rumour?

Mr. Newton

I suspect that the purpose of that question, dare I say, lay in the last point and I am glad that my hon. Friend managed to get it in. I also hope that he may catch your eye, Madam Speaker, in the debate that is about to take place.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the answer that he gave me last week, that he could not make time for a debate on the state of social services in Calderdale? Since I made that request, pensioners have contacted me saying that the Tory vice-chair, Mrs. Pat Asquith, is making threatening telephone calls to pensioners who mildly criticised the lack of services and, indeed, has issued a solicitor's letter against one. What is he going to do about the situation in Calderdale? May we have an urgent debate?

Mr. Newton

I say in all seriousness to the hon. Lady that she really cannot expect to make quite serious allegations off the cuff across the Floor of the House and expect me to respond.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

In view of the Foreign Secretary's clearly expressed wish that we should have a debate on Bosnia, why are we not having one next week?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend made the point, in response to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), that a debate would be easier for him than a series of statements. I do not know that that would necessarily lead to the conclusion that we should have a debate rather than statements when events can be moving quite fast. I know of my hon. Friend's concern about the subject, and he knows that I respect it. I have arranged for a debate on the Army on Wednesday next and, clearly, subject to you, Madam Speaker, that will provide a significant opportunity to refer to events in Bosnia.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 771 on the early treatment of cancer patients? [That this House, convinced that immediate treatment frequently means the difference between life and death for patients suffering from cancer, calls upon the Secretary of State for Health to implement as a matter of urgency the guidelines laid down by the Joint Council for Clinical Oncology on the waiting times for treatment; further demands that no closures or amalgamations of specialist hospitals like the Royal Marsden, or the Oncology Department of Saint Bartholomew's Hospital, should go ahead until patient need has been fully met; and insists that the Department of Health should investigate hospital waiting times for oncology departments and make that information available to Parliament immediately.] Will he find time to debate it next year—next week? Well, I suppose that it would be next year with the present Government. Will he find time to debate the matter very urgently, because many women are dying of ovarian cancer who could be saved if only they were given early treatment and there was some support?

Mr. Newton

While I cannot promise a debate, I can certainly promise to bring those remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention. The hon. Lady will acknowledge, going right back to my own time as Minister for Health, and before, the efforts that the Government have made to secure early diagnosis of cancer patients precisely to tackle such a problem.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the strength of feeling in Deal that the Royal Marines school of music should remain there? Will he find time, possibly during the debate next week, for a statement that it will remain in Deal and that we might even have a combined school of music there as well?

Mr. Newton

It would appear to me that Wednesday's debate on the Army might just possibly provide an opportunity for those points to be aired. But in response to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I am certainly aware of the concern that is felt in his constituency, as, very rightly, he frequently articulates it.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In view of the attempts to improve relations by Mr. Ansari, whom some of us know as a serious Iranian chargé d'affaires, could there be some explanation next week about what exactly the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said to him? Could there be some discussion in the House on the very important matter of relations between Britain and Iran?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be here to answer questions next Wednesday. If I may, I will draw that question to his attention.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Like me, my right hon. Friend will have read with some concern the reports about illegal immigrants in Southwark and the suggestion that perhaps there has been some connivance with the Southwark Labour-controlled council. That matter was raised in passing with the Prime Minister, but, as it really is a matter of great importance and urgency, will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Home Secretary to look into it and make an early statement to the House next week?

Mr. Newton

I thought that it was raised rather more than in passing with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I am certain, in any event, that, as the matter has been raised in that way, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will wish to look into what has been said.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Given the importance of international events at this stage—I am thinking particularly of the implications of the potential agreements with President Yeltsin's accord in Russia and the conclusion of the South African elections—will it be possible for the Leader of the House to arrange for a debate on foreign affairs, because those issues will have a very important effect on western policies?

Mr. Newton

I always bear such requests in mind. The hon. Lady will have heard many of the other requests that have been made to me; inevitably, there is potential competition. As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be here for Question Time next Wednesday.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

My right hon. Friend will have read in The Daily Telegraph this week a two-page article about Lloyd's, the future of insurance in the United Kingdom, and the serious years that Lloyd's has ahead of it. [Interruption.] In response to the laughter, I should say that I am not involved in that way. However, for the sake of the insurance world, and to keep London as the centre, would it be in order to have a debate next week on the future of Lloyd's and the insurance world?

Mr. Newton

I did note the extensive feature in The Daily Telegraph, as I have noted the points made recently by a number of my hon. Friends and, indeed, Opposition Members. But the fact that so much litigation is going on is perhaps some indication of the difficulties of debate.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

May we have a debate next week on safety in transporting children to and from school? The Leader of the House will be aware of the recent tragedy in my constituency where two young boys were killed. There is great anxiety throughout the country that we should move towards making seat belts on school buses compulsory. May we have a debate next week? If not, can the Leader of the House assure us that he will discuss the matter with his Cabinet colleagues, and that the Government will bring forward legislation to protect our schoolchildren while travelling to and from school?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman, with his particular and understandable interest in the matter, will know that, following various accidents, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport commissioned a full review of the technical and cost implications of fitting seat belts in such buses and, indeed, minibuses and coaches generally. The review is nearing completion and my right hon. Friend hopes to publish the conclusion shortly. I think that that will be the time to consider the points raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the G7 summit in Tokyo last September delegated the responsibility for coming up with a policy to cope with the world population explosion to the UN conference that is due to take place in Cairo this September. May it not be appropriate to have a debate in the coming weeks while the British Government are formulating their policy?

Mr. Newton

I will certainly give consideration to that. But, as I have said once before, there is obviously a lot of competition for such time as might be available.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

In view of the continuing decline in jobs in manufacturing and the disproportionate level of national resources which goes into support for the arms industry, as indicated by the statements of the President of the Board of Trade in a speech to the House last month when he proudly announced that £10 billion of taxpayers' money had been used to support military equipment development, which pales into insignificance when compared to the level of support for civilian manufacturing industry, will the Leader of the House find time soon to discuss early-day motion 1100 on civilian manufacturing and the arms industry?

[That this House believes that the proportion of the United Kingdom's manufacturing base formed by arms manufacture is worryingly large, that the opportunity cost to the civilian economy of the arms industry is high and that, while a huge percentage of national research effort still goes on weaponry and highly skilled technicians are deployed in the defence industry, the chances of rivalling the Japanese or Germans in civilian exports are depleted at a time when vast new markets are opening in the East; and calls on the President of the Board of Trade to appoint a working party to look strategically at the future of the arms' trade and its place in the economy.]

Incidentally, that has all-party support.

Mr. Newton

I must take issue with the thrust of some of the hon. Lady's remarks drawing such a clear distinction between different forms of manufacturing. As everyone well knows, the plain fact is that much that was originally manufactured for military or defence purposes has substantial civilian spin-offs and produces new opportunities for manufacturing of all kinds. It is a silly distinction that the hon. Lady sought to make. As she will know, my right hon. Friend is working on a substantial White Paper on competitiveness. That will contain much that will carry forward the Government's policies, which have been securing the manufacturing base in this country.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

The Leader of the House is aware that on many occasions I have called for a debate on safety in coaches, long before the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) intervened. In the light of my right hon. Friend's reply that he may be able to consider a debate following the review, may I urge him to do so, especially in the light of the evidence that has been given to the inquiry in Dover into the M2 coach crash where the coach speed limiter appears to have been disconnected? May we have a debate on the whole issue of coach safety, including the speeds at which they travel and the lanes in which they travel on our motorways?

Mr. Newton

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's assiduousness in raising those matters over a long period of time. That said, I cannot add to what I said earlier. Of course, I will bear in mind her support for such a debate.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on river pollution? Did he see the report this week that the National Rivers Authority said that the River Doe Lea is the worst polluted river in Europe? Two years ago, the authority said that the river was contaminated with dioxin to 1,000 times above the safety level. When will the Government make a statement and say that they are going to clean up that river and all the others that need cleaning in Britain?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman knows well the importance that my right hon. Friends attach to such matters. I cannot promise him a statement on that matter, but I can promise to bring his remarks to my right hon. Friends' attention.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

Can my right hon. Friend allow time next week for the House to debate the decision of a Committee of the House to ban the press from the Terrace Bar? There was no consultation with ordinary hon. Members like myself before that was done and it puts this place in a very bad light.

Mr. Newton

As I think that you are well aware, Madam Speaker, that is not strictly a matter for me, but it was done on the basis of very strong advice from the Select Committees on Administration and on Catering. The appropriate course would be for my hon. Friend to make his views clear to members of those Committees.

Dr. Joe Hendron (Belfast, West)

Bearing in mind the fact that thousands of people in the city of Belfast are living in fear daily, that four people have been murdered during the past few days, that 16 people have had their knees blown in by the Provisional IRA and that the paramilitaries —both the UDA and the Provos—seem to move about at will, can the Leader of the House make time some time next week, or some time soon, for us to discuss security in the city of Belfast?

Mr. Newton

I note that request. We have had several opportunities to speak about Northern Ireland recently—I do not want to underestimate in any way the problems to which the hon. Gentleman adverted—and we have also just had Northern Ireland Question Time, but I will bear the request in mind.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

Will my right hon. Friend allow us a debate in the near future on the present state of the economy? Given the 14 per cent. rise in construction orders, the recovery in the housing market, low inflation, low interest rates, falling unemployment, rising exports and rising productivity, such a debate would give us a good chance to tell people out there in the real world the real good news.

Mr. Newton

That is another request which I will bear in mind. However, a full day's debate could hardly do better than the crisp and well-ordered way in which my hon. Friend has just drawn the nation's attention to those significant facts.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The Leader of the House will recall that I exposed JHP Training for fraudulent acts and that the matter has been referred to the police for a full investigation. As I have received letters from people—some anonymous—working in agencies throughout the country, drawing attention to malpractice and, as there have been television programmes and newspaper articles on those matters, may we now have a debate?

Mr. Newton

In view of the inquiries into some of the matters that the hon. Gentleman drew attention to earlier, his request is perhaps a little premature, but I am sure that my right hon. Friends will want to take his further points into account.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

May I associate myself with the request by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) for a relatively early debate on the early treatment of cancer? I am a patron of the charity that researches into ovarian cancer and I am satisfied, because of the information that I have been given by the people involved in it, that the matter requires an urgent hearing.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has long taken an interest in those important matters. While I cannot add to what I told the hon. Lady, I will also bring my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1099?

[That this House congratulates the organisers of the Workers' Memorial Day on 28th April to remember those killed, injured or made ill by their work and to seek improvements in health and safety at work; condemns the current proposals by the Government to de-regulate in this area as they ignore the burden on families and friends of those killed and injured and the cost of occupational ill health, estimated as between £10 billion and £15 billion annually; notes that in the past 10 years 13,000 workers in the construction industry have died in so-called accidents on site and that over 3,000 people die of abestos-related diseases every year; calls for strengthened health and safety laws and greater powers of enforcement for the Health and Safety Executive; and calls on the Government and all employers to recognise their responsibility to eliminate all unnecessary deaths, injuries and illness. [R] Relevant registered interest declared.]

May I also draw his attention to the rally that is taking place outside the House of construction workers commemorating the deaths of 13,000 workers as a result of accidents on building sites during the past 10 years? May we have an early debate on the need for strengthening health and safety regulations that deal with protection at the workplace? May I also have the Government's response to the proposal that the law should recognise the crime of corporate manslaughter for employers who fail to provide adequate protection for their employees?

Mr. Newton

I do not wish to comment off the cuff on the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question; let me stress, however, that we are all concerned about the number of accidents in the construction industry. We very much hope that—apart from anything else—the proposed new construction regulations will ensure that health and safety are "planned into" construction projects, and will help to reduce the risks that have been shown to exist.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

We have been alerted by the Belizean Government to threats from Guatemala, and we are currently seeing changes in southern Africa and other parts of the world. May we soon have a two-day or possibly three-day debate to discuss foreign policy? That would give many hon. Members an early opportunity to discuss the numerous issues that must have implications for our future defence needs.

Mr. Newton

Again, I appreciate the reasons that have been given, and I will consider my hon. Friend's request. I feel that I should point out, however, that these exchanges began with implicit pressure for further consideration of the proposals of the Jopling report. There appears to me to be some tension between the demands being made for debates and the demands being made for the House to sit less frequently.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Does the Leader of the House accept that a debate on the Army on the eve of the local elections is not an ideal vehicle for the Foreign Secretary to report to the House on the efforts of Her Majesty's Government to resolve the continuing crisis in Bosnia? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore arrange a full debate in Government time at an early date, so that the Government can account to the House and hon. Members can explain their criticisms of current Government policy?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman—to whose interest in these matters I am very ready to pay tribute—will have heard what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). I have always said, however, that I am ready to consider such matters as events develop—and, in particular, to do what the House would in any case rightly demand of me, and arrange statements in relation to significant developments that occur.

Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)

Will my right hon. Friend, as a matter of urgency, rearrange the business between now and next Thursday to allow a debate on early-day motion 1105?

[That this House deplores the disgraceful smear campaign being waged by the honourable Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill, in other honourable Members' constituencies; regrets that the Right honourable Member for Yeovil has refused a request to dissociate himself from such tawdry electoral tactics; recognises that such behaviour is typical of the Liberal Democrats' hypocrisy; and calls upon the honourable Member either to substantiate his charges, or to retract them.]

I hope that we can also debate early-day motions 1135 and 1138.

Such a debate would give hon. Members on both sides of the House an opportunity to discuss and expose the sleazy campaigning tactics of the Liberal Democrats, who hijack the emblem of the House, put out leaflets that are totally at variance with the truth and will do anything they can to grub along a street and try to get as many votes as possible, regardless of the different answers that they give to the different people whom they meet on the doorstep.

Mr. Newton

I think that we have all had that experience from time to time with those to whom my hon. Friend refers. I have looked at what you said yesterday, Madam Speaker, about the use of the Crown portcullis and the royal arms, and also at a copy that someone sent me of the paper that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has apparently been sending out in Liverpool.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

What does it say?

Mr. Newton

Perhaps it would be unfair for me to answer, in the hon. Gentleman's absence. I have to say, however, that if I had sent the paper out I would find it very difficult to defend.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

If the Minister for open government continues to refuse to allow a Select Committee to carry out a direct survey of the opinions of civil servants, will the Leader of the House arrange a debate so that that Minister can be called to account for his actions? Will he also make a statement next week on the accountability of Ministers to Select Committees?

Mr. Newton

I will certainly consider the latter point, although I am not entirely sure what the hon. Gentleman has in mind. As for the first part of his question, which concerned attitude surveys, the position is clear: civil servants must not take part in surveys or research projects in their official capacities, even unattributably, if they deal with attitudes or opinions on political matters or matters of policy. As I understand it, there is nothing particularly new about that.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have a debate next week on nursery education, with particular application to the Conservative-controlled borough of Ealing, to examine the provision by the present council of 400 more nursery places than its Labour predecessor, with more on the way? There are also proposals for more places in Northolt, where much is needed.

Mr. Newton

With the required degree of ingenuity and your permission, Madam Speaker, my hon. Friend may be able to make those points in the debate on the Education Bill on Tuesday 3 May. Whether or not that proves to be possible, I am glad that my hon. Friend has had the opportunity to draw attention to the undoubted merits of Ealing borough council in that respect.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

May we have a debate on procedure and will the Leader of House, with his responsibility to all hon. Members, lead that debate? Many Conservative Members—they are either new hon. Members or they take rather longer than average to learn things—respond when my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition stands up by saying, "Answer, answer, answer."

We can understand their confusion, but could it be explained to them that it is the Prime Minister's job to answer questions and the Leader of the Opposition's job to ask them? While those positions will be changed in the not-too-distant future, should not Conservative Members be instructed in the basics until that time?

Mr. Newton

This is a bit of an old chestnut from the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he understands that the reaction of my right hon. and hon. Friends stems from what I regard as their understandable frustration at the difficulty in getting Opposition Front-Bench Members to answer any real questions anywhere in the country.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to study 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 deals with the scourge of child pornography and expresses concern at recent reports that the obscene publications branch of the Metropolitan police might be disbanded or dispersed.

While I recognise that the Metropolitan police Commissioner must do as he fit with his own force, may we have a statement next week to reassure the House that, whatever the future of the obscene publications branch is, police action against that vile trade will go on unabated?

Mr. Newton

I am not sure that we would need a debate to establish that. I thought that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made it extremely clear during our recent proceedings on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill and, indeed, I made the point during business questions last week, that any adjustment of the police arrangements will be certainly intended to improve, rather than to diminish, police efforts in that area.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

May we have an early debate on the funding of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which would give hon. Members an opportunity to argue with Ministers about the grotesque cut in funding for this year against a background of the £85 million being spent on tarting up the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

Mr. Newton

Perhaps the right course for me would be to bring the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

Has my right hon. Friend received a request for the use of an Opposition Supply day to debate the Labour party's proposals to abolish the assisted places scheme? Given that any such proposal would destroy the hopes and aspirations of tens of thousands of children from less well-off families, is not it important that we should have the opportunity to debate it?

Mr. Newton

Unhappily, the chances of getting the Opposition to take a Supply day to do that must be rather slim. My hon. Friend, with a little ingenuity, might squeeze that matter into Tuesday's debate on the Education Bill.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Would the right hon. Gentleman listen to, and respond to, the many requests to discuss a number of issues relevant to foreign affairs, including the urgent need for the House to debate, discuss and tear to pieces the Foreign Affairs Select Committee's report on relations with China which is full of inadequacies and inaccuracies, and which must be discussed before much more damage is done to our relations with that very great country?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman adverted to that latter point last week, and I made some suitably cautious comments at the time. I always listen to the requests that are made, but I accept that I am not always able to respond as people would wish. I genuinely will look at what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)

Could my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the national health service beyond London, particularly in relation to early-day motion 1037?

[That this House views with contempt the renewed attempts by the Labour Party to spread needless anxiety amongst patients by repeating unfounded scare stories about the National Health Service, and considers this latest attempt, led by the Right honourable Lady, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, to be particularly loathsome as it is designed to frighten older people into believing that they will no longer receive the treatment they need; welcomes the fact that, in both the cases used by the Right honourable Lady for Derby South, alternative packages of care were available but notes with regret that she has neither withdrawn her disgraceful allegations or had the decency to apologise to any older people who may initially have believed her; further notes that the NHS reforms continue to bring important improvements to patient care particularly for older people; and welcomes the Government's commitment to the NHS by providing ever increasing resources for a service that will continue to be available on the basis of clinical need regardless of the ability to pay.] We could then explore how the NHS reforms have now delivered 116 patients being dealt with this year for every 100 patients dealt with before the reforms were introduced.

Mr. Newton

I acknowledge that those points may not be as widely known as we should like and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for seeking further opportunities to make them known. Should he catch your eye, Madam Speaker, they may be in order during today's debate.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When may we have a debate on the admission yesterday by the Secretary of State for Social Security that at least 2 million people in Britain will have lost out by taking out personal pensions?

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

He did not say that.

Mr. Flynn

They were bribed and conned by the Government, who introduced those pensions and robbed the national insurance scheme of £3 billion by persuading people to take out personal pensions that will leave them in poverty in their old age. May we debate especially the personal involvement in that legislation of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House? Would the Leader of the House find his role in that matter difficult to defend?

Mr. Newton

No, I would not, especially given the many millions of people who have clearly benefited from, and appreciate, the opportunities provided by the development of personal pensions.

The hon. Gentleman is becoming a rival to a previous Front-Bench spokesman on that issue, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), whose persistent overstatement undermined the case that he sought to make.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

Will the Lord President reconsider his earlier statement on the position in Southwark, in the light of information that the matter has come to light as a result of investigations by that council, which were notified to the Home Office in December? Will he arrange for the Home Secretary to explain to the House why it took him five months and until a week before the local elections before taking any action?

Mr. Newton

I am certainly grateful for that further intelligence. I am glad to say that I do not have to follow, in day-to-day detail, the affairs of the London borough of Southwark, but I shall draw that point, along with the earlier ones, to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Although I welcome an early debate on the Army—while we still have one—would it not be a good idea to discuss specifically those who work in the defence industry? For instance, is the Leader of the House aware that, this morning, the workers at ROF Chorley presented a petition with more than 20,000 signatures? That symbolises not only the concern of workers in the defence industry throughout the country but their disgust at the fact that the Government have no plans to assist people who always came to the country's assistance in an emergency. May we have an early debate so that the Government can abandon their non-intervention policy and pursue a policy of helpful defence diversification?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman's suggestions about the Government's attitude to that matter would not bear the weight that he seeks to give them. The Government are always anxious to be as helpful as they can to people trying to cope with the effects of change. They have done much to build up the country's manufacturing base in various ways.

Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1111?

[That this House is appalled that the Pembrokeshire National Health Service Trust is making 55 staff redundant immediately and that a further 45 staff may face the sack in the near future; notes that the management has told the honourable Member for Pembroke that these redundancies are a direct result of the Welsh Office refusing to fund a 2.9 per cent. pay rise rightly awarded to nurses, midwives and doctors and that these support-job losses will ultimately have a detrimental effect on the quality of patient care in Pembrokeshire, contradicting the statement made by the Secretary of State for Wales on Monday 25th April that there would be no impact on patient care; and therefore calls on the Secretary of State to ensure the House is not misled and to fund the 2.9 per cent. pay rise throughout Wales to prevent mass redundancies throughout the NHS in Wales and to prevent any deterioration in the standard of care received by patients.] It deals with the proposed 100 redundancies at the Pembrokeshire national health service trust. There is a contradiction between what the management of the NHS trust says will be the impact on patient care and what the Secretary of State told me in answer to an oral question on Monday. May we have a debate not just about the Pembrokeshire NHS trust and its impact on patient care but about the position throughout Wales and the fact that the Welsh Office has not funded the 2.9 per cent. pay rise that was rightly awarded to nurses, doctors and midwives?

Mr. Newton

In accepting fully the recommendations of the pay review body, the Government have always looked to the national health service to fund those pay increases through improvements in efficiency and productivity so that the extra money announced for the NHS as a whole can go directly into patient services. The reductions in staffing levels are a matter for the trust, and the trust's priority remains to sustain high-quality patient services.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Recognising the loss incurred by thousands of pensioners in the former Belling pension fund as a result of the fraud committed by the former Belling directors, will the Leader of the House urge the Secretary of State to tell the House that his Department will give maximum assistance to such pensioners to minimise their loss, resolve the problem and ensure that such frauds can never be repeated?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman knows of the action that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took to assist Maxwell pensioners, especially in the early stages before so much was done to recover the money. He also commissioned the Goode report, which he is now examining with a view to bringing forward proposals. I do not think that my right hon. Friend can be accused of anything other than having taken the problems seriously.