HC Deb 24 March 1994 vol 240 cc421-35 3.30 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

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

Yes, Madam Speaker. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 28 MARCH—Progress on remaining stages of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.

TUESDAY 29 MARCH—Motion on the Railways (Rateable Values) (Amendment) order.

Motion from the Committee of Selection on the Membership of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs.

WEDNESDAY 30 MARCH—Opposition Day (8th allotted day).

There will be a debate described as "Pension transfers and the need for direct regulation of the private pensions sector", on an Opposition motion.

THURSDAY 31 MARCH—Debates on the Adjournment.

It may also be for the convenience of the House to know that the business for the first week back after the Easter Adjournment will be as follows:

TUESDAY 12 APRIL.—Progress on remaining stages of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.

WEDNESDAY 13 APRIL—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.

THURSDAY 14 APRIL—Opposition Day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, of which the subject is to be announced.

FRIDAY 15 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet at 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday 30 March to consider European Community document No. 6703/88 relating to equal pay and the supplementary explanatory memorandum relating to the burden of proof in the area of equal pay and equal treatment for women and men.

[Wednesday 30 March:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant 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).]

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the Leader of the House for that statement, and in particular for giving us some indication of what he has in mind for the week after the recess.

Will the Leader of the House find time for an early statement from the Secretary of State for Transport about the new timetable that he seems to have announced for the privatisation of British Rail? Is the Lord President aware that, at Asea Brown Boveri in Derby, 700 job losses were announced today, not because the company is uncompetitive or because we do not need new rolling stock, but because, as a direct result of the continued shambles of rail privatisation, there are no orders for which to compete? We would like an early statement from the Secretary of State on what is happening in that regard.

Will the Lord President also find time for a debate on the increase in prescription charges? He may recall that this year they amount to yet another tax on the sick, as they have gone up by five or six times the rate of inflation. In those circumstances, is not the least that we can expect that the Secretary of State for Health comes to the House to account for such a huge increase?

Finally, as the Attorney-General is now giving statements to the press about his evidence to the Scott inquiry, will the Lord President press him to reconsider his refusal to make a statement to the House?

Mr. Newton

It seems to me that, at a time when the Attorney-General is, or can only recently have finished, giving evidence today—I understand that he is expected to give further evidence tomorrow to the inquiry—the last of the right hon. Lady's questions is wholly inappropriate.

On the right hon. Lady's first question, I cannot make an immediate promise about statements by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, but I am sure that the whole House would wish to express its regret at redundancies, whether they are in Derbyshire or in any other part of the United Kingdom. I will of course bring her comments to my right hon. Friend's attention.

I cannot promise a debate on prescription charges. No doubt there will be opportunities to raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I must say that I find it difficult to understand what point the right hon. Lady would make, given that she would effectively be seeking to deny the national health service money that could be spent on patient treatment, new hospitals and the like, at a time when she is constantly calling for more.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend provide time in the near future for the House to discuss the system of law-making in the European Community? Is he aware that there is widespread support for the Government's patriotic and constitutional attitude to voting in the Community, and rising concern about another matter? In 1992, the Community passed 1,526 regulations and 122 directives; in each case, there was no proper examination of that ill-considered and intrusive flood of foreign legislation.

Mr. Newton

I have three comments to make. First, we have well-established arrangements in the House for scrutiny of much of this material—although, given what he has said, I acknowledge that my hon. Friend probably does not think them sufficiently satisfactory. Secondly, the Government's increasingly successful emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity should reduce that flow, and perhaps even reverse it in some respects. Thirdly, my hon. Friend will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about the Community's mechanisms generally in response to a question at Prime Minister's Question Time.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

The notice of our business after Easter is extremely welcome. I am especially pleased that the Leader of the House has found time to allow three days for the Report stage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. He will be aware, however, that crucial issues are involved in that Report stage—some of them subject to a free vote, on a non-party line basis. What steps is he taking to make the order of consideration of clauses available to the House as soon as possible, so that hon. Members can make their dispositions accordingly?

Mr. Newton

Part of that question is really for you, Madam Speaker. There is, however, an established order of discussion in the ordinary course of events: Government new clauses come first, followed by other new clauses, and so on. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is familiar with that procedure, but my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will be glad to give him any help we can.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. One sometimes feels in this job that there are more brickbats than plaudits.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

Would my right hon. Friend be good enough to let us have a debate on the magnifying, exponential curve of regulations that arrive not just from Europe but from this country, and their utter absurdity and impropriety if we believe in a free society?

Mr. Newton

In addition to what I said a moment ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) about European matters, let me draw the attention of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) to the major effort being led by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, under the general heading of deregulation. Given that a Bill on the subject is currently being considered, there will certainly be opportunities for discussion in due course.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

May we have a statement at senior level—not just from junior Scottish Office Ministers—about what has happened in Strathclyde? Will the Leader of the House take it from me, with my particular political history, that the matter raises very serious problems for the Union between England and Scotland, exceeding those simply connected with water? If it is seen that no notice is taken of the issue, and it is dismissed from—if I may say so—a rather haughty position, there will be real and lasting trouble in Scotland.

Mr. Newton

Let me make two points. First, the Local Government (Etc.) (Scotland) Bill is still in Committee, and the hon. Gentleman is a member of that Committee; secondly, the hon. Gentleman has had a statement—or, at least, a comment—within the past quarter of an hour from a very senior figure indeed.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that we debate foreign affairs far too rarely in this House? Could not Tuesday's business be changed? Instead of debating what he has announced, could we have a debate on the Balkans?

Mr. Newton

I recognise and respect my hon. Friend's reasons for pressing me again on the matter, but there are a quite of number of people to whom it is important that we should proceed with the establishment of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that right hon. and hon. Members are being told that tomorrow the Government will be laying an amendment to the Service Pensions Order that will affect war pensions and war widows' pensions? Is he further aware that it is the Government's intention, as stated by the Minister responsible for war pensions in another place, to make the order effective on Monday next week—28 March—leaving only two non-parliamentary days, Saturday and Sunday, in between? Would that not be grossly contemptuous of this House?

Mr. Newton

I do not believe that my right hon. Friend would behave in a way that was grossly contemptuous of the House. I understand that he is following established procedures for amending war pension provisions, but I shall bring the right hon. Gentleman's comments to his attention.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that businesses in Kent are under great threat both from the flood of foreign apples and other fruit, which is damaging Kent's fruit industry, and from the licensed trade's difficulties with differential tariffs on drink? Will he allow a discussion of those matters in the House, as they are of great concern to the people of Kent?

Mr. Newton

I take note of my hon. Friend's comments. As a Member of Parliament representing the county across the Thames, I can say that apple growers in Essex might also express some concern. I cannot immediately promise a debate, but there will be an opportunity to comment on agricultural matters at least during the rest of today's proceedings.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House provide time next week for a debate on transport so that we could incorporate a discussion on early-day motion 939, on the takeover of Yorkshire Rider by Badgerline?

[That this House notes the proposed £38 million buy-out of Yorkshire Rider bus company by Badgerline; further notes that Yorkshire Rider is 49 per cent. owned by the employees who have not been consulted in the deal; is concerned at the paucity of the offer bearing in mind Yorkshire Rider's £86 million turnover and £10 million of assets; recognises that the success of Yorkshire Rider in maintaining a viable network in West Yorkshire is because of sacrifices over a number of years by the workforce including pay cuts; is concerned at reports of profits on the deal for directors of up to £3.8 million each; and calls on the Secretary of State for Transport and the President of the Board of Trade to intervene to protect the interests of the travelling public in West Yorkshire.]

On the face of it, that takeover has been brought about because the directors received very generous contributions for agreeing to the takeover. It places in jeopardy the public services built up by Yorkshire Rider, which is 49 per cent. owned by the workers who provide the Yorkshire Rider service but who have not been consulted on that takeover. Surely we could debate the involvement of the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Transport in the matter, which could seriously jeopardise transport in west Yorkshire.

Mr. Newton

I understand that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade may be required to make a decision on that takeover under his merger control powers, in the light of advice from the Director General of Fair Trading. I think the hon. Gentleman will understand that, under those circumstances, it would not be appropriate at present for me or the President of the Board of Trade to comment.

Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Uruguay round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade cannot come into effect until more than 100 Parliaments ratify the treaty? Although the House will not be one of those 100 or more, for reasons of which my right hon. Friend will be aware, does he not agree that we should none the less have the opportunity to debate some of the implications of the Uruguay round, particularly in view of the reservations and doubts expressed by certain industries in this country?

Mr. Newton

I take note of my hon. Friend's request, although I cannot immediately give an undertaking of a debate at a particular time.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about his role in the planning of the imminent visit to the United Kingdom by the President of the Republic of Ireland? The Secretary of State describes it as a private visit, but Mrs. Robinson will be carrying out public engagements and, in particular, will be entering my constituency as if she were the President of it and the rest of Northern Ireland. She will be acting in a manner that is discourteous to Her Majesty the Queen, and as if the constitutional claim in the Irish constitution were a reality. That has been connived at by the Secretary of State and organised by persons who draw their income from the British taxpayer. I wonder what will be done about such disloyal conduct.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman would not expect me readily to accept the sort of language that he has used, even though it might have been in order. I shall simply bring his comments to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Can my right hon. Friend find time during the next two parliamentary weeks to debate early-day motion 910, entitled. "Lady Thatcher's visit to Chile", tabled by 44 left-wing Labour Members of Parliament? It is full of historical falsehoods and vile and malign sentiments towards the Government and people of Chile, which is a good friend and ally.

[That this House is appalled that in her visit to Chile Lady Thatcher is meeting representatives of the former military junta, including a reported meeting with General Pinochet; recalls that the junta led to the death or disappearance of over 50,000 people and that one million were forced into exile; and further recalls that the Government of Lady Thatcher supplied arms to Chile and used their military support for the Falklands war and that it endorsed the ruinous monetarist economic strategy that destroyed Chile's public services and impoverished millions.]

When considering that motion, will my right hon. Friend take note of the two amendments that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) tabled to try to set the record straight, not least about the Falklands war and other related matters?

Mr. Newton

As always, I shall take note of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. Lady Thatcher's visit to Chile was a private visit, and we enjoy excellent relations with that country.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department at some time next week to make a statement to the House on the fire service? Is he aware that much concern has been expressed by communities and by industry about the limitations imposed on local fire authorities when carrying out their obligations and responsibilities for proper and adequate fire cover?

Mr. Newton

The House may be seeing a fair amount of my right hon. and learned Friend during the next few days, because of the business that I have announced, although I accept that we will not be debating the fire service. However, I shall bring that question to his attention.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Following the point made by hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), can we use the impasse over 23/27 to start a very important debate in Europe about how Europe is governed, in particular; how we can constrain and redirect the powers of the Commission; how we can ensure subsidiarity so that laws that should be made by national Parliaments are made by national Parliaments; how we can ensure a system of legislative certainty so that we know, when we pass laws in this House, that they will not be overwhelmed by European institutions; and how we can deal with the democratic deficit in Europe, for example, this terrible system at the moment—

Madam Speaker

Order. This is not the occasion for a debate on European matters. I am sure that the Leader of the House has got the gist of the question. Am I right?

Mr. Marlow

Can I just finish?

Madam Speaker

No. I am in a position to ask the Leader of the House to answer one question only. He can therefore choose which of those questions he wishes to answer.

Mr. Newton.

If I might answer two questions, Madam Speaker, but the first would be yours. Yes, I had got the gist of my hon. Friend's questions. As to his message, I refer him to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Since the Attorney-General had time yesterday to give interviews to the BBC and ITN before giving evidence to the Scott inquiry today, why did the Leader of the House not ensure that any such statements were made in the House, where we could question him? We well understand, however, that the Attorney-General does not want to be made the fall guy by the Cabinet for all the lying to Parliament and the rest that the Scott inquiry is looking into.

Mr. Newton.

Since the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends appear to be running in and out of the inquiry giving a running commentary on the proceedings in a way that I find distasteful and deplorable, I am not sure that I want to respond to his direct comments.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)

Can we have a debate on the interests of manufacturing industry, which is now in recovery but is distinguished from other forms of commercial activity by its capital-intensive nature? If we were to have a debate, could we discuss the one measure that would change the fortunes of small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses—the abolition of capital gains tax?

Mr. Newton.

As they say, that is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As it happens, he will be here to answer questions during the first week back after the Easter recess, and I shall warn him of what is coming.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)


Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

You' re in, sailor.

Mr. Faulds

No thanks to you; you are never off your feet. I am sorry, Madam Speaker.

When will the right hon. Gentleman afford the House the opportunity to debate the massive misjudgments of policy of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Governor of Hong Kong about the future relations between Hong Kong and China in the next two or three years, and the appalling effects these misunderstandings on the part of the Government will have on our relations with that immensely important country, China?

Mr. Newton

I have already said that the Foreign Secretary will be here to answer questions next Wednesday. The hon. Gentleman might care to put that question to him then—but I must make it clear that I do not accept his description of the efforts that the British Government are making to ensure the continuation and advance of democratic institutions in Hong Kong.

Mr. Gerald Malone (Winchester)

My right hon. Friend always has the interests of the whole House at heart, so I assume that to keep himself well briefed he has read the current issue of Tribune. May I refer him to an excellent article by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who suggests an ideal subject for debate on the Opposition day that is not yet full? The article is about economic policy and the Labour party's policy, and the hon. Gentleman simply says, "What is Labour going to do? Nobody knows." May I recommend that as a subject? At least the debate would be short.

Mr. Newton

I am duly grateful to my hon. Friend. I noticed that not a flicker passed across the face of the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), but I hope that at least she has noted the suggestion.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

May I ask the Leader of the House to listen to the growing calls from both sides of the House for increased scrutiny of EC legislation? We do not have adequate scrutiny of matters such as the green paper on social policy, parental leave, part-time workers and now equal pay. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his decision to debate all that in Committee rather than on the Floor of the House, where issues of such great importance should properly be debated?

Mr. Newton

Of course I always consider representations, but I would not want to build up too many hopes in the hon. Lady's mind. When she talks about scrutiny of European documents, she might be on a stronger wicket if there was any evidence that the leader of her party read the documents that he signed.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for an important debate to show that council tax payers are much better off under Conservative than under Labour or Liberal councils? May we debate in particular Castle Point council's latest performance? That Conservative council has cut its council tax by 23 per cent., and at the same time tremendously increased services.

Mr. Newton

I would happily provide time for such a debate were I not somewhat fearful that it might excite demands for debates on all the other highly successful and economical Conservative councils all over the country.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate about the employment practices of multinational corporations such as SmithKline, which take over British companies such as Beecham and sell off part of their products? Without consultation, SmithKline has shut the factory at St. Helens, which has been there for 100 years, and thrown 600 workers on to the dole queues. Surely the House should debate such issues, especially when the company concerned increased its profits by 12 per cent. last year to £1.22 billion.

Mr. Newton

Perhaps I could draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) pointed out, an Opposition day is, as it were, vacant at the moment. It has been striking that, ever since unemployment started to fall, the Opposition have shied away from discussing matters relating to employment.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

May I ask my right hon. Friend to arrange an early debate to examine the workings of the Race Relations Act 1976? That would give us an opportunity to understand how, with apparent legality, the London borough of Greenwich can place an advertisement in the press for a black social worker, and to contrast that with the howls of indignation that would come from the Opposition if a Conservative borough council advertised for a white social worker.

Mr. Newton

Probably thanks to the good offices of my hon. Friend, I have the advertisement here. There is something extraordinary about an advertisement that ends by saying that the council is operating an equal opportunities policy, yet is headed with a request for a black social worker. I should have thought that the relevant commission might wish to examine that.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), may we have a debate on early-day motion 927, which deals with Strathclyde's water referendum in which more than 1.2 million people participated, more than 97 per cent. of whom voted against the Government's proposals to transfer Scotland's water from elected local authorities to non-elected quangos?

[That this House congratulates Strathclyde Regional Council for holding a referendum on the future of water and sewerage services which was carried out by the Independent Electoral Reform Ballot Services Ltd. and which asked only the simple question 'Do you agree with the Government's proposal for the future of water and sewerage services-Yes or No?'; notes that 1,720,940 ballot papers were issued, 1,230,328 were returned, a rate of participation of 71.5 per cent., of whom an overwhelming 1,194,667 or 97.2 per cent. voted 'No' and only a meagre 33,956 or 2.8 per cent. voted 'Yes'; considers this to have been a fair and democratic ballot; and therefore calls upon the Government to scrap its plans to put appointed quangos in charge of Scotland's water and sewerage services.]

Will the Government listen for once to the voice of the people and ensure that Scotland's water remains the property of the people, accountable to the people, through the elected representatives of the people?

Mr. Newton

Taking that as a straightforward request for a debate and ignoring the surrounding rhetoric, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Local Government Etc. (Scotland) Bill, which deals with such matters, is currently in Committee, and will in due course return to be debated on the Floor of the House; so he will get his debate.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Will my right hon. Friend give urgent attention to the need for a debate on sex education in schools? Is he aware of the grave concern felt by parents about the stories that have just emerged about explicit material being foisted on 10 and 11-year-olds? Does he agree that the House should be debating the fact that children's teaching should emphasise morals and family values?

Mr. Newton

I think that many other hon. Members will share the concern recently expressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. Clearly, he will be giving further consideration to the matter raised by my hon. Friend in light of the findings of the investigation currently being carried out by the local education authority in the area.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

As the Home Office seems to be in a condition of shambolic siege over its handling of the hunger strike at Campsfield detention centre—with the refusal to allow me to visit the centre today now being described as "a mistake" and the refusal of Ministers to meet hon. Members to discuss the hunger strikes being denied altogether—will the Leader of the House persuade the Home Secretary to make a full statement about the hunger strikes on Monday, bearing in mind the fact that there is to be a demonstration outside the centre on Saturday, calling for it to be closed?

Mr. Newton

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has yet had the opportunity to study the very long and full letter sent to him today by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. If he has, I am sure he will accept that the description he gave is not a faithful account of what happened. The hon. Gentleman will know that the problem has been that the situation at Campsfield is rather difficult, with the detainees still refusing food. The officials who would have been involved in the hon. Gentleman's visit are heavily engaged in that situation, and my hon. Friend's judgment was simply that the visit should be postponed until next week.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

May I first congratulate the Leader of the House on arranging debates on housing, which have allowed Conservative Members to draw attention to the number of vacant houses and flats in public ownership, which could be better used by those who live in overcrowded conditions?

Will he, however, arrange for a debate on the Palace of Westminster and the number of its rooms and offices in public ownership which are under-utilised or not used at all? May I draw his attention to five such rooms in Dean's Yard, which have been locked since Christmas and from which hon. Members have been banned by the Serjeant at Arms, who said that any hon. Member using them would be accused of squatting?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend has written to me to draw the matter to my attention, and I am making further inquiries.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we please have an early debate on the reported bizarre and wholly unacceptable suggestion that German troops should take part in the VE day parade? Is he aware that ex-service men such as myself and, I think, most of the British people, especially those who would like and are seeking reconciliation, would regard that as the worst possible way of achieving that reconciliation because it would stir up controversy and ill will where none was intended, and cause gross offence?

Mr. Newton

There seems to have been some misunderstanding about these matters in recent days, but I hope that things have now been made clear in a way that the hon. and learned Gentleman has found satisfactory.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate next week, or after the recess, on Post Office practices—particularly on the failure to consult communities such as that in Greenford before closing the facility that allowed people to collect their undelivered mail? Is he aware that, if the facility is closed, people will have to travel two miles to collect their mail, regardless of their age? That is a disgrace. The House should consider the unsatisfactory way in which the Post Office is operating in certain circumstances.

Mr. Newton

It is clear that my hon. Friend has already raised the matter with the Post Office. I am sure that the Post Office will look carefully at what he has said, and I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade sees what he has said as well.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Could the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement about the targets that she intends to put in place for the early treatment of cancer patients throughout the national health service? No targets are being set, and there is no information about why the NHS in its new trust form is not complying with the guidelines of the Council of Oncologists. After the debate last week, will the Leader of the House insist that some answers are given by Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Newton

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will respond as appropriate to the hon. Lady's representations. The hon. Lady will know, and I certainly know from my experience as the Minister of Health, of the efforts that have been made recently in improving screening for cancer in this country.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

May I support the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) for a debate on local council tax? That would give Labour Front-Bench Members the opportunity to explain why it is that, of all the district councils of west Kent, only Labour-controlled Gravesham borough council has not decreased its council tax, why the former Conservative-controlled Gravesham borough council had the lowest council tax last year, and why its council tax has increased to the fifth highest under Labour?

Mr. Newton

I shall try to organise a debate. I do not think that there is a mystery about the matter, as it is a well-established historical experience that that is what happens with Labour councils.

Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

Is the Lord President aware of early-day motions 940 and 941 on leasehold reform, and the charter launched today by the Association of London Authorities on behalf of the 500,000 leaseholders in London who did not benefit from the recent legislation?

[That this House calls for the extension of leasehold enfranchisement to leaseholders paying higher ground rent, living over shops or with leases under 21 years; believes changes in legislation are needed to ensure valuations are based on market value of the freehold only and that this should apply to leasehold extensions; further believes that local authorities and housing associations should be able to offer advice and assistance to anyone considering exercising their right to leasehold enfranchisement; considers the Secretary of State should ensure that any code of conduct is based on the principle that the leaseholder should have easy redress against problems they face from freeholders and that that code of conduct is accessible and comprehensible to those without legal or technical knowledge; and demands that the Government provides adequate support to agencies such as the Leasehold Enfranchisement Advisory Service and should make leaseholders aware of their existing rights and simplify the process of enforcing such rights to make them more accessible to more people.]

Will the Lord President therefore make time next week to debate leasehold reform, and confirm the Government's commitment to move to commonhold, so that those leaseholders may benefit from it?

Mr. Newton

I must fall back on the time-honoured formula that the Government will bring forward legislation to introduce commonhold as soon as parliamentary time permits.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the subject of Lancashire Enterprise Ltd., the supposedly arm's-length company set up by the Labour-controlled Lancashire county council, and the potential conflict of interest, in as much as I believe that the Labour leader of that council, who is partly responsible for a number of the contracts given to LEL, is a member of the LEL board and a shareholder in the company?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend would not expect me to comment off the cuff from the Dispatch Box on those points; I am sure that they will be examined in the proper quarters.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York)

Does the Leader of the House accept that it is not only my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) who is concerned about the 700 redundancies at the ABB carriage works, but every one of a dwindling band of hon. Members who represent manufacturing constituencies? Because of the delay in franchising, the privatisation blight on railway orders will continue. Unless the Government allow a debate on the need for an emergency investment programme both in British Rail rolling stock and on the London Underground, they will find that, when they are in a position to place orders, there will be no manufacturing industry left, and we will end up importing carriages from abroad.

Mr. Newton

I recognise why the hon. Gentleman has raised that question, but he will recognise that I have already responded to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), and I cannot add to what I said to her.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)

In view of the callous and brutal killing of my constituent Jonathan Roberts last year while trying to apprehend a shoplifter at Plymstock Broadway, and in view of the overwhelming outpouring of public concern at the five-year prison sentence which was passed on his killer— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Home Secretary to come to the House next week to make a statement about the Court of Appeal's sentencing guidelines for manslaughter so that a clear message can be sent from the House that five years for that sort of brutal killing is not enough?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend's view is undoubtedly widely shared, as was clear from the reaction in the House. My right hon. and learned Friend will be here to discuss criminal justice matters on no fewer than three of the days to which I referred in my business statement.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Is the Leader of the House aware that we spent 80 hours, 48 minutes discussing the Coal Industry Bill in the House in all its stages leading up to Third Reading, including Committee and Report? We then spent 27 minutes on Third Reading itself. Should not there be a change in the procedures of the House so that the Third Reading of important items is dealt with separately? Hon. Members would then have time to reflect on the situation, and we could have a full and proper debate. That could apply to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which we are due to consider.

Mr. Newton

It is, of course, possible to make such arrangements, but it has usually been for the convenience of the House—it probably was for most of yesterday—to proceed in a way which allows flexibility, and which allows for time to be devoted to the discussion of specific points and amendments, and also the more general debate on Third Reading. That flexibility is generally valued by hon. Members of all parties.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange time for a debate next week on transport in London? He will be aware of the considerable anxiety about red routes which are being imposed in London.

While it is of course recognised that parking on red routes is unfortunate, will my right hon. Friend also find time during the same debate to explain to the House how many ladies and gentlemen of the press who are members of the Lobby here have passes and park their cars in the car park below New Palace Yard?

Mr. Newton


Madam Speaker

Order. I must remind hon. Members that they have only one bite at the cherry so far as the Leader of the House is concerned.

Mr. Allason

I referred to London transport.

Madam Speaker

Hardly, considering that the matter concerned this House. The hon. Gentleman might think of putting his question to a Committee, rather than to the Leader of the House, because he is thereby taking up the time of the House.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for your helpful steer to my hon. Friend, Madam Speaker. The matter which he has raised is for the Administration Committee. I will bring the first half of my hon. Friend's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Secretaries of State for Health and for Wales about underfunding in the health service and, in particular, the fact that the 2. 9 per cent. pay award to health workers apparently has not been funded centrally? In my constituency, the local health trust is already warning that that could mean redundancy for 100 health workers. If that were repeated throughout the country, there would be many thousands of redundancies as a result of underfunding.

Mr. Newton

Naturally, I will bring the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, but she might be as resistant to its implications as I am. When I consider that the Government are now spending 65 per cent. more on the NHS in real terms than did the Government that the hon. Gentleman would have supported, I find the suggestion of underfunding a bit stretched.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

During which debate next week will I be able to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the Government's robust defence of Britain's voting rights in the EC? Is not that in sharp contrast to the position of the Labour party, whose leader in the European Parliament says that the blocking minority should be at least 27 votes? Is not it also in contrast to the Leader of the Opposition, who this afternoon proved once again—

Madam Speaker

Order. This is an abuse of business questions.

Mr. Riddick


Madam Speaker

I will tell the hon. Gentleman why. We are not here to make arguments. Hon. Members are asking the Leader of the House for a certain time next week to debate a matter, and not to put arguments. If the Leader of House allows it—and the hon. Gentleman catches my eye—I will call him next week, provided that there is a debate on those matters.

Mr. Newton

I cannot immediately see an opportunity for such a debate. However, knowing my hon. Friend's ingenuity, he may well find one.

Madam Speaker

He will be very lucky after that.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

May we have a debate on the immediate threat to the jobs of 31,000 civil servants in Wales, and to congratulate the Minister of State, Welsh Office on courageously writing to the President of the Board of Trade, warning him of the danger of the loss of jobs in Wales if the Patent Office, the Account Services Agency and Companies House are privatised? When can we debate those urgent matters?

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Gentleman's congratulations to my right hon. Friend. It seems to me highly unlikely that my right hon. Friend would accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestions about the likely consequences of privatisation.

Mr. Tony Banks

Did the right hon. Gentleman share my deep concern at the sight of Mrs. Thatcher collapsing in a heap in Chile recently? May we have a debate next week on the way in which old-age pensioners are forced to go abroad from this country to earn a crust?

Mr. Newton

I think that that is one of the hon. Gentleman's better questions, among many good ones. I hope that I may take it as an expression of sympathy and good will to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement—indeed, an explanation—from the Secretary of State for the Environment about his setting aside his decision of 2 August 1993 to refuse opencast mining at Birch Coppice in my constituency, which has now plunged thousands of my constituents into the threat of opencast mining? Does he realise that, if the Secretary of State had a job in private industry and displayed such crass incompetence, he would be sacked?

Mr. Newton

That was some more rather overheated language. Leaving that aside, I am not informed about the details, but I will bring the question to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on early-day motion 935?

[That this House rejects the proposal that Britain should be included in the Central European Time Zone; notes that the research which is being cited in support of this idea includes 20 year old data on road traffic accidents and therefore fails to take account of new circumstances such as the welcome reduction in evening drink driving; further notes that Cm 722 states that fuel savings would be 'very small compared to total energy costs'; would be appalled by a measure which would delay the winter sunrise until after 10 a.m. in much of Scotland and after 9 a.m. in other parts of the United Kingdom; fears that an artificial extension of morning darkness would have a detrimental effect on postal and goods delivery services, the construction industry and agriculture; condemns a proposal which would endanger people who begin work early in the mornings; noting that accidents to postmen and women doubled in the 1968 to 1971 experiment, and which would compel children to travel to school in darkness on icy roads; and calls on the Government to recognise the natural laws of the solar system by keeping the link with Greenwich Mean Time in accordance with the universally recognised World Time Order of 1844.]

Central European Time would be very damaging for postmen, farm workers and children on their way to school. Can he confirm that the Government have reversed their intention to introduce that change this Session, as reported in The Scotsman this morning?

Mr. Newton

I can confirm that there is a difficult balance of argument to weigh, and that the Government are currently continuing to consider future policy towards summer time.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

In view of the Leader of the House's announcement about the debate next week on European matters, will he find time to ensure that we debate the huge difference between the facilities available to people who drive trucks in this country and in Europe? Is he aware that there is a growing number of women truckers, who want the same facilities as in other European countries—especially such things as toilet, washing and shower facilities?

Mr. Newton

I do not think that I referred to a debate on European matters next week, although there is one immediately impending that raises some European issues in the agricultural field. I will bring the rest of the question to my right hon. Friend's attention, but of course the Government have been making efforts to improve facilities, especially on motorways.

Several hon. Members

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

In a moment.