HC Deb 05 May 1994 vol 242 cc843-50 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. The business for next week will be as follows:

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.

TUESDAY 10 MAY—Progress on remaining stages of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill.

WEDNESDAY 11 MAY—Opposition Day (12th allotted day) (first part). Until seven o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "Europe and the Environment" on an Opposition motion.

Debate on the Procedure Committee report on "Parliamentary Scrutiny of Deregulation Orders" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 12 MAY—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill.

FRIDAY 13 MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 16 MAY—There will be debate on the European Union on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 10 May to consider the presidency report on the results of negotiations on the accession of Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden to the European Union and the draft accession treaty.

[Relevant documents:

Monday 9 May:

European Community documents: 10166/93 and 11317/ 93 State aid to the steel industry; Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 48-iv (1993–94). European Community document: 6703/82 Burden of Proof (Equal opportunities); 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).

Tuesday 10 May:

European Standing Committee B—European Community documents: (a) Presidency report and addendum on results of negotiations on the accession of Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden to the European Union; (b) Draft accession treaty. European Legislation Committee Reports: HC 48-xiv (1993–94) and HC 48-xv (1993–94).]

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to try to arrange an early statement on the impact on gas prices of the changes that are currently being considered? The Prime Minister has just told us that we are scaremongering when we raise the issue of the impact of these changes on low-income families—indeed, on all families—but, as disgraceful scaremongering is what he said we were engaging in when we said that VAT might be extended if the Conservative party were to win the last general election, this does not exactly strike confidence in our hearts. Thus, we should like to have an early statement on the issue.

Secondly, I should like to ask the Leader of the House to try to persuade the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement about the increase of 50 per cent. in the number of complaints about the health service. I realise that this will be difficult, as the right hon. Lady does not care to come to the House. It will be within the recollection of all hon. Members that the increase to which I refer is completely contrary to the statements that the right hon. Lady repeatedly makes about growing confidence in the health service. It would be helpful if she could be brought to the House to explain the discrepancy between her statements and the facts.

Finally, I noticed the Lord President's reference to consideration of the enlargement of the European Community. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the Government's decision that that debate should be held in Standing Committee B? As I know he will recall, in March the Select Committee on European Legislation said that it had no hesitation in recommending that that debate be taken on the Floor of the House because the issues that it raised were so important. I know that it is a matter of concern to hon. Members in all parts of the House.

Mr. Newton

I entirely reject the right hon. Lady's observation and notion that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is unwilling to come to the House when it is appropriate. Of course I shall draw the right hon. Lady's request to my right hon. Friend's attention.

The right hon. Lady spoke about gas prices and acknowledged that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had just commented on that matter. I remind her that the word "scaremongering" was introduced by way of a quotation by the director of the Gas Consumers Council. The right hon. Lady might like to bear that in mind.

The right hon. Lady spoke about my announcement of a debate in European Standing Committee B on accession matters. Perhaps I may straightforwardly explain the problem. As is readily ascertainable from today's newspapers, the European Parliament only yesterday gave its assent to the treaty, and a formal decision may be expected at the Foreign Affairs Council on 16 and 17 May.

The only practicable way that we could see to undertake debate in the relatively short time available was in European Standing Committee B. The House will also bear in mind that I have announced for Monday week a wide-ranging debate on European matters as a whole, in which accession matters could be referred to.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that Chancellor Kohl of Germany has invited the European Parliament to participate in the discussions on the reshaping of Europe up to the treaty re-examination of 1996? Has my right hon. Friend given some thought, or would he like to before the debate on the European Union, to ways in which national Parliaments, and particularly this national Parliament, can also participate in that process, as suggested in the Maastricht treaty?

Mr. Newton

I had indeed noticed those reports, and I shall give thought to the matter that my right hon. Friend raises. I merely observe wryly that my experience over the past couple of years is that hon. Members find many ways to express their views on these matters.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Does the Leader of the House accept that, now that the normal working relationship has been re-established between the Government and the official Opposition following the recent period of attrition between the two Front Benches, this would be a good moment to try to establish common ground on both sides to get reform of procedures of the House? Would he convene a meeting of the interested parties to see what common ground there is in advance of a debate on the Standing Orders that would be necessary to reform our procedures?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the way that things were moving before the usual channels were broken. Of course, I hope to resume progress in the way that was then indicated. I know that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) will not mind if I advert to the fact that I have already had informal words with her about, if you like, resuming talks about talks. I shall undertake to have such talks with the hon. Gentleman as well.

Mr.Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

My right hon. Friend will have heard the exchanges earlier about the possible unfortunate publication of photographs of the Princess of Wales. Requests were made for legislation on privacy. I would not support a privacy Bill, but does my right hon. Friend accept that the measures on bugging and the intrusion of telephoto lenses and one or two others that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage has suggested require the urgent consideration of the House?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will have heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister undertake to reflect on points that were made, I think twice, during Prime Minister's questions. I am sure that the Prime Minister will also wish to reflect on my hon. Friend's slightly different remarks.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that it has been shown that the London borough of Newham and its people have been defrauded of £20 million of expenditure under the Government's formula for local government grant? Is he also aware that, nationally and in Newham, it is believed that the formula is fixed to favour Conservative councils? If he cannot refute that now, will he please say when we may have a debate in which it can be demonstrated?

Mr. Newton

I will observe only that I can think of quite a number of areas, where the council is under different control, where they equally believe that the rules are rigged to help some other kind of authority. It is a field in which the difficulties are well known. I will draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

As the House knows, I have been drawing to the attention of the House the amount of money that is wasted in this place. Will my right hon. Friend call an urgent meeting to find out why so many of the filing cabinets in the Palace of Westminster—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is a long-serving parliamentarian, and he knows that the Leader of the House should not be asked questions about House matters during business questions. Those questions should be put to the Leader of the House during his own Question Time. This is about the business for next week, not House matters or filing cabinets. [An HON. MEMBER: "He wants to ask about business for next week."] I know what the hon. Gentleman wants, but if he is not capable of phrasing his question properly, I am not out to help him to do so.

Mr. Steen

I found that advice very helpful.

Could I ask the Leader of the House whether we could have a debate early next week on why the filing cabinets in the Palace of Westminster are to be scrapped—they do not contain an anti-tilting mechanism as recommended by EEC directives? Will he consider why we must replace all the desks in the Palace of Westminster—they are not high enough—and why every power point in the Palace of Westminster must be numbered, because of the electricity at work regulations, which are not compulsory, merely advisory? Surely we should put our own house in order here, and not allow officials to run this place, spending public money.

Mr. Newton

I cannot, despite my hon. Friend's blandishments, promise a debate, but I can promise to bring his remarks to the attention of the appropriate Committee and, indeed, the House authorities. I will endeavour to ensure that I am able to respond to him in some other way.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

The Leader of the House will have read this week the report prepared by the Carers National Association, "Community Care: A Fairy Tale". I am sure, therefore, that he will be prepared to ask the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House next week to discuss why nearly one third of the people in need of assessments have not received them, and why many of them do not even know that community care exists. That is a horrifying situation. Will he please see that we debate it next week?

Mr. Newton

As it happens, because of my previous ministerial record, I know the people concerned with the Carers National Association very well, and, indeed, respect them, but, on this front, I simply do not agree with them. The foundations have been laid and are beginning to produce a significant improvement in care. I am bound to say that some of the voluntary organisations in my constituency have acknowledged that very clearly in meetings with me.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 1158, which refers to myself?

[That this House deplores the remarks alleged to have been made by the honourable Member for the Isle of Wight during a discussion on the revitalisation of Coventry's city centre by members of the Select Committee of the Environment and reported in The Sunday Mercury and The Coventry Evening Telegraph; notes that the honourable Member for the Isle of Wight is reported to have interjected and said 'Bomb it again'; and therefore, demands that the honourable Member for the Isle of Wight withdraw his tasteless remarks and apologise to the people of Coventry who suffered greatly from Luftwaffe bombing raids during the War and whose courage was a symbol of hope, peace and reconciliation for the world.]

Can we have a debate on that as soon as possible, as the transcript of evidence of the Environment Select Committee does not contain the alleged remarks referred to in that early-day motion and, because of the rules of the House, the evidence cannot be made available to the press probably until the autumn when the report is published, and neither the media nor the public understand those rules, or how it is possible for an early-day motion to be laid before the House about proceedings which are not yet publicly available, and which even my right hon. Friend is not able to see?

Mr. Newton

It is certainly the case, of course, that, not being a member of the Select Committee, I would not have been able to see the document to which my hon. Friend referred, but I am very ready to accept his assurances about what he did or did not say. As it happens, I have in front of me a line to take—in the helpful way in which such things are provided—which says: It is hardly for me to comment on reports of remarks in local newspapers. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight is quite capable of looking after himself. I think that he has confirmed that.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in the very near future about the role of the United Nations and the changing patterns, where it expects regional organisations to do some of the policing in their regions? It would allow us to clarify issues and, at the same time, encourage nations in the United Nations that vote and thereafter do not participate. In particular, may I draw attention to the situation in Rwanda, where the Organisation of African Unity could do more to protect the Rwandan people?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful and thought-provoking remarks. Although they do not enable me to promise a debate, I am sure that they will be studied with interest by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

The European Commission issued yesterday and today the most harsh quotas under Chinese trade restrictions—approved by the EC, but voted against by the Government. The PMS company of Southend has been told to reduce its business from £14 million to £3.5 million, although it employs 200 people, is a good employer and is expanding. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, next Thursday, the House can have some discussion of those lunatic trade restrictions introduced by the EC, which simply destroy jobs and do no good to anyone?

Mr. Newton

In view of my hon. Friend's strong constituency interests, I well understand why he raised that matter. I am mildly puzzled by his reference to next Thursday, but he could be provided with opportunities to raise the issue during Department of Trade and Industry questions on Wednesday 11 May, or in the European Union debate that I announced for Monday 16 May.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that a statement is made by the appropriate Minister about the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which will be before the House again tomorrow, when only limited time will be available? Last Friday, the House voted unanimously for the Government to progress that Bill, which would help about 10 million disabled people to enjoy equal rights.

In view of today's scandalous report that the House will rise on 15 July, will the Leader of the House give a reassurance that at least one day, but certainly enough time necessary, will be available to allow the Bill to pass? If the House can tool up in the middle of July for three months, surely to God there should be enough time to get through that Bill for disabled people?

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Gentleman's comments. I would not wish to excite his hopes or those of others over speculation concerning 15 July. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People has made absolutely clear throughout the Government's wish to make constructive progress in a practical way in improving opportunities for disabled people. He will seek to advance that general cause with his comments tomorrow.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House on the costs of rail privatisation, and explain how £446 million has been spent so far on that totally unnecessary and unwanted measure? The Secretary of State could also acknowledge that, for a fraction of that cost, the line could have been electrified beyond Shrewsbury, Wellington station could have been refurbished, and the freight line to Donington and our InterCity links could have been reinstated. That would seem far better value for money.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman's figure of £446 million bears no relation to any that I recognise. Leaving that aside, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be in the House to answer questions next Monday.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the House debated the Army yesterday. Some three dozen of my right hon. and hon. Friends attended, and many of us were disappointed that we were unable to contribute. Notwithstanding the remarks earlier of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), there was almost no one on the Opposition Benches, and Labour's Front-Bench spokesman had to speak for 69 minutes to conceal his colleagues' absence.

Will my right hon. Friend provide time for a further debate on the armed forces, so that those of us who are concerned about the defence of this country may be able to speak on the subject—and so that Labour Members, who have no interest in the defence of the realm, can be exposed yet again?

Mr. Newton

Not having been present myself to a great extent yesterday, I am interested to hear my hon. Friend's comments. I did not find them particularly surprising. Even so, I cannot promise a further debate in the near future —but my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will be answering questions next Tuesday.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

I seek the assistance of the Leader of the House in respect of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, which will be debated next week. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that new clauses 22, 23 and 24 would remove from local authorities the right to control markets within a radius of six and two thirds miles. I hope that the Leader of the House will accept the growing consensus that some change has to be made, and that any change that is approved should include the whole area of a local authority.

The right hon. Gentleman may not be aware that there will be a problem if the local authority area has a radius of more than six and two thirds miles. It could be argued that that will increase regulation rather than deregulation. Will he turn his mind to the question and tell those hon. Members, including myself, who wish to table amendments on local authority areas how to overcome that apparently insurmountable obstacle?

Mr. Newton

I am aware of some of the points that have been made about the new clauses, and of the difficulties that have arisen. I would be unwise to seek to advise the hon. Gentleman immediately from the Dispatch Box, but I shall reflect on the argument that he has advanced.

Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the recently released crime figures for last year, in which I and other hon. Members could draw attention to the outstanding performance of Cleveland constabulary, where recorded crime fell last year by 7 per cent., seven times the national average? We could also draw attention to the fact that it has achieved that excellent performance despite being underfunded to the tune of £1.8 million by Labour-controlled Cleveland county council.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend makes some good and interesting points. I am glad that he has had the opportunity to put them on the record without my being able to provide a full debate.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I congratulate the Government on their speedy response to requests made in the Chamber for emergency aid to save the giant tortoises in the Galapagos islands. The money that the Government made available was put to good and efficient use. May I push the Leader of the House a bit further today? Could we have a debate in Government time on the threat to endangered species such as tigers and black rhinos, the population of which is reaching such a level that they may be driven into extinction?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise a debate on the second issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. It strikes me that such remarks could be in order, subject to your view, Madam Speaker, in the Opposition debate on Europe and the environment on Wednesday 11 May. I thank him for the generous way in which he acknowledged the action that has been taken.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I feel an irresistible urge to congratulate him on holding a debate on the European Union on Monday week, which is very timely? Will he confirm that this Parliament, contrary to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) implied, may be the first of all the national Parliaments of the 12 member states in the European Community to discuss the matter before the intergovernmental conference in 1996?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend advances a good argument. I am glad that he did not resist the temptation to be nice to me, and I hope that his example will be followed by other hon. Members.

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