HC Deb 24 November 1994 vol 250 cc757-63

5.7 pm

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

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

Madam Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a statement about the business for next week. The business for next week will be as follows.

MONDAY 28 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the European Communities (Finance) Bill.

Motion to take note of documents relating to the 1995 budget of the European communities. Details will be given in the Official Report.

TUESDAY 29 NOVEMBER—My right hon. and learned.Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

WEDNESDAY 30 NOVEMBER—Continuation of the Budget debate.

THURSDAY 1 DECEMBER—Continuation of the Budget debate.

FRIDAY 2 DECEMBER—There will be a debate on policing of London on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 5 DECEMBER—Continuation of the Budget debate which will be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 6 December.

[Monday 28 November:

European Communities (Finance) Bill—Relevant European Community documents: 1. European Communities Act 1972 (as amended) 2. 1994 Own Resources Decision 3. 1988 Own Resources Decision 4. 1985 Own Resources Decision 5. 1992 Edinburgh European Council Conclusions 6. 1993 Inter-Institutional Agreement 7. 1994 Budget Discipline Decision 8. 1994 Council Regulation No 2728/94 establishing a Guarantee Fund for external actions 9. 1994 Council Regulation No 2729/94 amending Regulation No 1552/89 10. 1994 Council Regulation No 2730/94 amending the Financial Regulation 11. 1993 Structural Fund Regulation 12. 1993 Cohesion Fund Regulation 13. 1994 Working Methods Paper on the UK Abatement 14. Executive Summary of the European Court of Auditors report on implementation of the 1993 EC Budget.

Floor of the House—Relevant European Community documents: a) COM(94)400 1995 Budget, b) 8782/94 1995 Budget, c) 9943/94 Adjustment of the financial perspective with a view to enlargement of the European Union, d) Unnumbered Document-European Parliament Minutes for the Sitting of the 27 October 1994 relating to the Draft General Budget for the European Union for the financial year 1995, e) Unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum-Council Decisions on the European Parliament's proposed amendments and modifications to the Draft General Budget of the European Community for the financial year 1995; relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: a) HC 48-xxiii (1993–94), b) HC 48-xxvi (1993–94), c) No report, d) No report, e) No report.

Tuesday 29 November:

Chancellor of the Exchequer—Budget statement: The following documents are relevant to the Budget debate: Unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by HM Treasury on 22 September 1994 relating to the Commission opinion on the existence of an excessive deficit in the United Kingdom and recommendation for a Council decision, drawn up in accordance with Article 104c.5 and Article 104c.6 of the Treaty establishing the European Community; Unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by HM Treasury on 14 October 1994 relating to the Council recommendations to the United Kingdom with a view to bringing an end to the situation of an excessive Government deficit, prepared by the Commission in acceptance with Article 104c.7 of the Treaty establishing the European Community.]

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. On Monday, in the event of the Leader of the House being successful in brow-beating Conservative Members into the Lobby and, as usual, a rebellion petering out, and the European Communities (Finance) Bill receiving a Second Reading, will it be committed to a Committee of the whole House as befits a measure of such importance as—I think—the House would wish?

If the Leader of the House remains in office after Monday's vote, will he find time, as a matter of urgency, to debate the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee report and its recommendation of a code of conduct, which would be very useful as a buffer against ministerial party political excesses? It would be of great advantage to everyone to have an early debate on that issue.

Will the Leader of the House also tell us when he expects to find time to debate the Jopling report and the proposals to which he referred in his speech last night?

Mr. Newton

Let me take the latter two questions first. The hon. Lady well knows my desire to find time to debate the proposals that she and I have been able to agree—I think that is now the right word—for the Jopling report. However, she will equally understand that, with the business immediately facing the House and with five days—which, I may say, responds to the wishes of the Opposition—being allocated to debate the Budget, it would be difficult for me to make a promise of a debate before the week after next—at the earliest—on either of the matters that she has raised. I cannot give a commitment even on that at this stage.

The hon. Lady's first question is, of course, a matter for the House, but it is a matter of record that, normally, the practice for such Bills has been to discuss them in a Committee of the whole House.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

One of the most important measures announced in the Queen's Speech was the Pensions Bill to protect the interests of occupational pensioners. When will that be introduced? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it will start its progress in this House?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend, above all, knows that the Bill will be long and complex. Its preparation is not yet completed and, at this stage, I cannot give a definite date for its expected introduction. We are still considering, in various parts of the legislative programme, precisely how the balance as to where Bills should originate will fall between the two Houses.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that it has been a long time since the House debated agriculture in Government time? Is he aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House have hill livestock farmers in their constituencies who are under some pressure? The new budgetary format means that hill livestock compensatory allowance payments will be made in the aftermath of the Budget statement. It would be helpful if the Leader of the House could give us some idea of when an agriculture debate will take place and when the announcements about HLCA payments will be made.

Mr. Newton

Again, I cannot be as specific as the hon. Gentleman would evidently like me to be. However, I do not think that his questions will go unanswered for very long.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)


Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate about unregulated DSS hostels and houses in multiple occupation, which continue to have a thoroughly damaging effect on the quality of life and the economy of many seaside resorts throughout the country? Is he aware that this week the Government issued a consultation paper about a potential licensing system for houses in multiple occupation? Does he understand that many of my constituents want to see a self-financing licensing system for all existing hostels introduced as soon as possible?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will know that I am aware of the consultation paper. For reasons that I have already touched on, I cannot promise an early debate. However, I note that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be in the House to answer questions next Wednesday, which may give my hon. Friend an opportunity to underline his concern.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland next week about his outrageous proposal to publish death rate league tables for Scottish hospitals? Bearing in mind that a spokesperson for the Secretary of State for Health is quoted as saying that she has no intention of following the Scottish example because she has no enthusiasm for "counting dead bodies", why on earth is the Secretary of.State for Scotland pursuing such a ghoulish policy?

Mr. Newton

I understand that the clinical outcome indicators report, which I think underlines what the hon. Gentleman referred to, has been prepared by a working group of health professionals, public health doctors and NHS managers. While I understand why the hon. Gentleman used his phrase, the proper way to describe the process is "clinical outcomes", and of course a large number of outcomes are highly successful.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

Could we have an early debate on the subject of social services, bearing in mind that certain shire counties, including Gloucestershire, have been badly served by a change in the funding formula? It is rather difficult to explain to our constituents why help is being withdrawn at a time when we are about to devote billions, seemingly uncounted, to extend Italian motorway systems.

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has commented about social services in recent times— most recently in the debate on the Queen's Speech, which we concluded yesterday. The hon. Gentleman will know that substantial additional sums of money have been allocated in connection with the development of community care policy.

Rev. Marlin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Minister will remember that I asked last week for a statement about sudden infant deaths. The Minister had an opportunity to make some reference to the subject this week, but did not do so. I press the Minister to give the House an opportunity to explore the matter.

Mr. Newton

I think that the hon. Gentleman, rather uncharacteristically, is being a little unfair. That is clearly a matter which requires careful professional advice. He will know that last Friday the chief medical officer convened an expert working group to consider what had been said on the "The Cook Report". It has advised that the programme provided nothing to invalidate earlier reports, but raised questions which need proper investigation, and further work is progressing urgently. I think that that is probably the right way to approach this difficult matter.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Given that we are debating European Community finances on Monday, can the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues give serious consideration to how the House, the Parliament, and indeed the United Kingdom, can contribute to monitoring and examining the colossal fraud that is perpetrated throughout the European Community? Would not Monday's debate provide an opportunity to suggest some positive ways to deal with the problem?

Mr. Newton

From the way in which my hon. Friend has phrased his question, I know that he needs no reminder from me that the background of the Court of Auditors report deals in part with the efforts that the Government have made to ensure that the Community tries harder to combat fraud. The British Government need no urging in their attempts to ensure that the Community's efforts are reinforced and supported in every possible way. I have no doubt that it is a matter to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor will advert in the debate on Monday.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

Taking on board the fact that the House will have the opportunity later tonight to vote on ministerial and other salaries, will the Leader of the House find time next week to debate the level of remuneration for elected local councillors from all political parties who often work long and hard for very little reward?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise to find time for a debate, but I will bring the concern that the hon. Gentleman has raised to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who I think is the appropriate Minister to refer it to, as well as to the attention of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Are not there two main subjects of discussion in connection with the European finance Bill debate on Monday: first, the question of whether it is a matter of confidence, and all that flows from that; and, secondly, the financial arguments, which could properly be dealt with by the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Is not it the case that the subject should be dealt with in a two-day debate, and that the first day should begin with the Prime Minister explaining how he regards it as a matter of confidence? Is not it unsatisfactory for this debate to be truncated into one day, which is overshadowed by the Budget, so as to ensure that the constitutional impropriety of the Government is given as little attention as possible?

Mr. Newton

I must make one point to my hon. Friend, in view of the phrasing of his question. The question about whether this is a matter of confidence is not open for discussion: it is, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, a matter of confidence.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister both explained and made clear the position on who should participate in the debate in his Question Time only a couple of hours ago. Thirdly, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has referred repeatedly to the Bill's financial details in recent days. He has made it quite clear— as no doubt he will on Monday— that the effects of the Bill in implementing the Edinburgh agreement will amount to £75 million next year, rising to £250 million by the end of the century.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the compensation recovery unit of the DSS is clawing back vast amounts of compensation awarded for ill health and injury? For example, a Glasgow man who was awarded £30,000 ended up with £2,000 at a time when he was at his very lowest ebb in financial and health terms. In the interests of justice, will the Minister institute an early debate on a subject which affects a large number of innocent individuals and groups throughout the country?

Mr. Newton

As a former DSS Minister, I know that the principle of compensation recovery is a long-established one. I do not think that anyone looking at it would argue seriously that state benefits should replace permanently compensation due from a party found guilty of negligence. The current scheme ensures that the cost of compensation falls where it should: on the person who has been negligent.

Sir Irvine Patrick (Sheffield, Hallam)

May we have an early debate on the free accommodation provided for Sheffield Labour Members of Parliament and the Sheffield Member of the European Parliament so that we may ascertain whether that practice is widespread or just a local difficulty? The matter was highlighted in yesterday's issue of The Star in Sheffield.

Mr. Newton

I shall obviously consider my hon. Friend's point. However, he will have some opportunity to raise the matter next week because, as I have already said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be here to answer questions on Wednesday. I think that we can also anticipate in the latter part of next week the annual revenue support grant statement.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

I apologise for trying to butt in at the start of the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson). My right hon Friend will be aware that, this afternoon, the Prime Minister said that the leakage of classified information that was reported today in The Independent had not originated from British Telecom. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has been a serious leakage of highly classified information and that if British Telecom denies that it was responsible for that leak, it must be a matter for a statement by the Home Secretary?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will probably understand that I cannot add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this afternoon, which was clearly based on urgent but careful inquiry. However, I shall bring my hon. Friend's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will there be a debate at any time next week on "The Health of the Nation" statement, which was made by the Secretary of State for Health? A debate is especially important in view of the dangerous development of suicide squads—these religious cults—which seems to have spread to six Cabinet members. Is the Leader of the House one of the six? I can tell him that if they intend to start blowing people up, we are not going with them.

Mr. Newton

If the hon. Gentleman were going with us, it might tempt some of us. Beyond that, I cannot add to what has been said.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Given that, after the debate on Monday, the Whip may well be withdrawn from a score or so of my right hon. Friend's hon. Friends, would that score or so constitute a political party and would it be entitled to facilities in the House and to public money?

Madam Speaker

Order. Those are internal matters.

Mr. Marlow

If, at a later stage, the Government were to table an amendment and the new, improved Conservative party opposed it, would the doctrine of collegiate, corporate Cabinet Gotterdammerung still apply?

Mr. Newton

I shall probably be pulled up for saying that I did not hear a request for a debate, Madam Speaker. If there had been such a request, I would have said that I could not find time for it.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

During this spell of mild weather, the Leader of the House might be forgiven for forgetting about the poor, the disabled and the elderly who will suffer during the winter. Is not it time that we had a debate on that matter so that we can discuss legislation to put in place a properly constituted and adequate cold climate payment?

Mr. Newton

I have been familiar with those matters for many years because of my time as a social security Minister. In a brief answer, I shall not attempt to rehearse all the difficulties. However, I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security to what has been said.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Given what the Lord President said yesterday evening about the Jopling report and the progress that he hopes to make on it, and bearing in mind that yesterday evening he told us when he expected the Easter recess to start, is he aware that Christmas comes before Easter? Can he give us any information about when that recess will start?

Mr. Newton

I am aware that Christmas comes before Easter and I wondered last night whether I might do a little better on that front. The best that I can do at the moment is to say that I expect the Christmas recess to start in the week before Christmas and to include Christmas day. I shall give further and better particulars when the scene becomes clearer. As I said last night, many hon. Members have spotted that Easter is about as late as it can get and thought that the recess would probably come before Easter. That was why I sought to make the matter clear but I am bound to say that my phrasing allowed for not having an Faster recess at all.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Would my right hon. Friend consider a debate to mark next week's visit to this country by the Speaker of the Kuwaiti Parliament and seven of its Members? It would be an opportunity for the House to share its concern with them over the plight of 625 missing prisoners of war and detainees held in Iraq. These are crucial days and we hope that talks between Kuwait and Iraq are about to begin. It is important for the Iraqis to see that this country supports the allies in making sure that the Iraqis comply with UN resolutions and to realise that sanctions will not be lifted until all those issues are resolved.

Mr. Newton

Even without a debate—we recently had a full day on foreign affairs during the debate on the Address—I assure my hon. Friend that, on the matters that she mentions, as on others, the Government remain concerned to ensure compliance with all United Nations resolutions.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on NHS hospital trusts, thus giving the Labour party an opportunity to comment on an outburst by a leading light in my local Labour party who appeared to be claiming that his application to join a local NHS trust board was rejected because of his party's hostility to sensible Government reforms of the NHS?

Mr. Newton

If I were to provide time for debate on every unreasonable outburst by local Labour supporters, we should be debating nothing else.