HC Deb 27 April 1995 vol 258 cc983-92 3.30 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

May I ask the Leader of the House for details of future business?

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 1 MAY—Remaining stages of the Children (Scotland) Bill.

TUESDAY 2 MAY—Remaining stages of the Atomic Energy Authority Bill.

WEDNESDAY 3 MAY—Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Debate on exports, industry and inward investment, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 4 MAY—Debate on the Royal Air Force, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 5 MAY—It will be proposed that the House will meet at 9.30 am for Prayers and thereafter adjourn. Addresses will be presented to Her Majesty the Queen in Westminster Hall at 12 noon.

Monday 8 May is, of course, a bank holiday, and the House will not sit. I regret that, at present, I am not able' to give details of business later that week. I will do so next week and, at the same time, I hope to give some indication as to business for the following week. I will make every effort—if I may predict one of the questions that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) will ask—to include provision for Opposition time.

Mrs. Taylor

I regret the slippage in announcing future business that the Leader of the House has announced. We were making good progress, and I urge him to try to regain that position in the future.

I could raise many issues with the Leader of the House today, but I intend to put them to one side in light of the seriousness with which we view his failure to provide a Supply day for the Opposition next week. I have been pressing for a Supply day since the end of March, so that Opposition Members could choose the subject of debate. Today, the Leader of the House has announced the business of the House up to and beyond the local elections on 4 May, and we have been denied a Supply day yet again. That will mean an interval of at least six weeks between Supply days.

I believe that the Leader of the House is aware of his obligations to Her Majesty's Opposition, and I know that he must have come under very significant pressure—not least, because he promised in the Chamber on 30 March and on 18 and 20 April that he would do his best to take on board our requests for a Supply day.

I cannot stress enough that it is unacceptable for the Government to refuse the Opposition a Supply day throughout the run-up period to the local elections, especially given the desire on both sides of the House for a debate on health. Even with the Whip restored to some to compensate for other hon. Members who have been suspended, are the Government still afraid of the outcome of a debate on London health? The Leader of the House must realise that he is wrong to try to gag the Opposition, wrong to delay debates until after the local elections, and wrong to duck debates on London health.

Mr. Newton

I need hardly say that there is no question of trying to gag the Opposition or duck debate on legitimate issues. There was an above-average frequency of Opposition days earlier in the year, and we have had an above-average need to deal with Government business in the past few weeks, including three Bills for which the Opposition pressed very hard, among them the Children (Scotland) Bill, which we are due to debate next Monday. I always take account of the hon. Lady's representations, which is not to say that I can always meet them, but I have just said that I shall make every effort to include Opposition time in my next business statement.

Sir John Gorst (Hendon, North)

Could the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time on the closure of London hospitals?

Mr. Newton

There have already been substantial exchanges on that matter in relation to the private notice question which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health answered two or three weeks ago. I have no plans to provide for a debate in Government time, but I shall note my hon. Friend's representation.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Does the Leader of the House accept that the widespread consternation and confusion about the exact position in relation to the Churchill archives has not been dispelled by the answer given by the Prime Minister to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) a few minutes ago?

It is not the distinction between the state and private papers that concerns people in all parts of the House and the country, but the clear impression that Ministers have given the House on successive occasions that the national lottery would be new money, not money to substitute for something in which the Government and the state should invest anyway. Will the Leader of the House therefore assure us that there will be an opportunity not only to hear from the Secretary of State on that matter, but to debate the issue?

Mr. Newton

I certainly cannot promise an opportunity for debate but, as ever, I shall bear the request in mind. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was absolutely clear about the position, and, as he emphasised, the decision was taken by independent trustees of the national heritage memorial fund.

Sir Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

May I quote a phrase which my right hon. Friend just used and suggest that there is an "above-average need" for a debate on the situation in the former Yugoslavia? Can we have one very soon?

Mr. Newton

While noting my hon. Friend's request, and very much respecting the interest that he has taken in those matters over many years, I cannot promise a debate at the moment. Given the pressures I face from those on the Opposition Front Bench and elsewhere, he will understand some of the difficulties that I might find in so doing. I will, however, keep it in mind.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Wales to make a statement next week on the delays and prevarications with regard to the district auditor's reports on an investigation into possible fraud in the housing renovation department in Rhondda? A management letter was submitted last year on the matter and has not been actioned. A public interest report should be brought forward. One was promised before March, but will not be brought forward before the local elections. Do not the electorate have a right to know about important material in such reports before local elections take place?

Mr. Newton

I am not aware of any plans that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has to make a statement on that matter, but I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's question to his attention.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Could the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on commitment in politics, given that the House may wish to decide which is the greater cosmetic act: the setting up of Max Factor, or Labour's review of clause IV?

Mr. Newton

I will reflect on that.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the public, who are outraged by the Churchill payout, will not be pacified by the Prime Minister's answer this afternoon? As the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) will almost certainly be made redundant at the next general election, will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate on what will be seen as the biggest redundancy payout ever?

Mr. Newton

As I have said, I thought that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made the position absolutely clear in his answer at Prime Minister's questions today. What is more, I think that it will be generally welcomed that it has proved possible to keep this invaluable collection of papers, regardless of their original ownership and whether they were state papers or private papers, or those on which the National Heritage Memorial Fund will have taken legal advice, together as a single, invaluable collection.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) is keen to have a debate on the health service. Will my right hon. Friend assist her by allowing an Opposition day debate on the health service in Leicestershire, because my right hon. Friend will find that 93 per cent. of those who responded to a survey across my constituency were not only well satisfied but wholly happy with the way in which the health service is running under the Government's reforms? Can my right hon. Friend find Opposition time for such a debate?

Mr. Newton

I will certainly endeavour to bring that out should such a debate take place. In any event, I endorse my hon. and learned Friend's observations about the experience that people report when they actually have treatment with the NHS.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the lottery? Is he aware that people in poor areas in Hackney spend more money, as a proportion of their income, on lottery tickets than people anywhere else? They are amazed to find that £13.5 million of their money is going to the Churchill family trust.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister's answer this afternoon was misleading, and that what the Prime Minister described as personal papers are personal only in the sense that Sir Winston Churchill chose to take them with him when he retired from office? Is he aware that the Attlee family donated all his papers, state and personal, to the nation, and will he not urge the Churchill family to do the same?

Mr. Newton

I do not believe that the hon. Lady is right in what she says.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will my right hon. Friend allow a debate on school transport? I am sure that his constituents must have been very concerned at the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) about the vindictive action of the Lib-Lab pact that controls Essex county council and the damage that it will do to less well-off families whose children need to go some distance to get to school. It will not surprise my right hon. Friend that in Kent, where the county council is also run by a Lib-Lab pact, we are also very concerned.

Mr. Newton

The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) is immediately adjacent to mine—indeed, it is half a mile from where I live—so I am well aware of the concerns that are felt in Essex about the policies that are being considered by the Lib-Lab pact that runs Essex county council. Indeed, I am making representations on behalf of my own constituents.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the pay of the bosses who run the privatised utilities, and has he noticed that his friend Lord Young, who is the head of the privatised Cable and Wireless company and receives £948,000 a year, has had the bare-faced cheek to attack teachers who are asking for 3 per cent. as being "greedy"? Is it not time that we debated this issue to put into context the fact that, among those who have taken those jobs, are 19 ex-Tory Cabinet Ministers, with 19 directorships between them? They are the greedy people, and the last thing they should be talking about is our teachers and nurses.

Mr. Newton

The position is that we are awaiting the recommendations of the Greenbury committee, which is considering the issue of executive pay in all public companies. I think that that is the right context in which to consider those matters, and any report from that committee would be the right context in which to consider a debate.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Can I reiterate to my right hon. Friend my previous plea for an urgent debate on civil air transport, which is one of this country's largest sources of employment and foreign exchange? In that context, could my right hon. Friend reconsider the subject matter for next Thursday's debate, and move the debate on the Royal Air Force to a later date, because the Royal Air Force affects the whole of the nation and many right hon. and hon. Members will be away for the local elections, whereas civil air transport is of particular concern to London Members, especially to those like me, who have many constituents working at Heathrow airport?

Mr. Newton

Of course, I shall, as ever, bear my hon. Friend's request in mind. I must say, however, that I am mildly surprised by his request in one sense, in that he is one of those from whom I had anticipated pressure for a debate on the RAF had I not announced one.

Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

Given that the Director General of the Prison Service is now on probation, mainly because the Home Secretary cannot make up his mind whether to sack him or back him, is it not time that we had a debate on prison privatisation?

Mr. Newton

I cannot add to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary told the House about this matter yesterday. There are no plans for a debate such as the hon. Lady suggests, but I shall, of course, bear her request in mind, too.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on civil air transport and air services agreements between the United Kingdom and the United States, so that Conservative Members can make the point that it is the job of the United Kingdom to negotiate such agreements, not that of the European Commission, and that we are going to defeat the ambitions of the Commissioner involved, as we have in the past?

Mr. Newton

I have to acknowledge that that is a genuinely attractive proposition for a debate, but I must stop short of promising it. I can but stress that I share my hon. Friend's view that the United Kingdom's interests are best served by direct air services agreements made by national Governments. We firmly believe that the United Kingdom and other member states should remain free to negotiate bilaterally with the United States.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate early next week on funding and financial provision for the Royal British Legion, especially as that would be just ahead of VE day, which we shall all celebrate, so that we can consider what might have been done with the £14 million that has just been given to the trust of one hon. Member, and how it might have been used to help the veterans who really deserve it?

Mr. Newton

I understand why the hon. Lady feels it right to ask the question in that way. I would venture the view, however, that members of the Royal British Legion and, indeed, all those who served in the British forces and on the British civilian scene in the second world war, would be very unhappy at the thought of the Churchill papers being broken up.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

On that subject, does my right hon. Friend accept that everybody knows that, if it had not been for the inspirational leadership of Sir Winston Churchill in the second world war, it is highly likely that we would have been defeated and that this country would have been governed by Adolf Hitler? Does he not consider that this country owes an unbounded debt to Churchill and his memory, and that his wishes should be honoured and respected?

Madam Speaker

Order. I did not hear the hon. Gentleman ask for any change of business next week. This is not the time to make statements about individual views, but an opportunity for hon. Members to question the Leader of the House about next week's business. However, I shall hear the Leader of the House reply—he is quite capable of doing so in spite of the way the paint was put to him.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for that compliment from the Chair, and I shall do my best. Perhaps the best that I can do is to point out that part of what is in effect our business next Friday is the start of the celebrations for VE day weekend, with the events in Westminster Hall. I am sure that the contribution that Sir Winston Churchill made to enable us to hold such events will be much in everyone's mind.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Has the Leader of the House read the Conservative manifesto of one John Kelly, a local election candidate in Manchester, who writes: Are you depressed, unhappy, suicidal?—then think what it's like for me as a Conservative candidate"? Could we have a debate a week on Friday to discuss the medical advice available for defeated Tory candidates?

Mr. Newton

I have not read that manifesto. On the second point, I do not share the reported feelings of the person in question. In answer to his last question, the hon. Gentleman will find that the Friday in question is a non-sitting day.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have a debate on the decision to acquire the Churchill papers? I support all who called for such a debate with a view to congratulating those who made the great decision to acquire the papers of the greatest man in the century, perhaps the greatest Englishman of all time. [Interruption.] It is true. May we have such a debate without descending to the politics of envy?

Mr. Newton

Once again, I have a request that I shall bear in mind, but I am afraid that I cannot accede to it from the Dispatch Box this afternoon, although I appreciate my hon. Friend's motives.

Ms Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

May I inform the Leader of the House that a number of my constituents have complained that there is still a police cordon around the City of London? I note that the letter boxes around Paddington station are still sealed. Will he arrange for a debate about security provisions on the mainland, in view of the changed circumstances?

Mr. Newton

I shall, of course, bring those remarks to the attention of the appropriate authorities, and ask them to be drawn to the attention of the appropriate authorities in the City. My own observations, as a result of being a frequent user of Liverpool street station, are that the arrangements have improved traffic flow in the area.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Will my right hon. Friend consider providing time for an urgent debate on local government? Is he aware of a recent study that showed that most politically obsessed local authorities are all Labour-controlled? Indeed, their obsession with race, gender and sexual orientation is said to heighten awareness, not discrimination, and is causing serious resentment in the community at large, as people feel that they are not getting a fair share of the cake.

Mr. Newton

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the costs of what is known as political correctness are probably one reason why, band for band, the costs of Labour local councils are higher than those of others.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

In view of the Prime Minister's inadequate explanation, may we have a statement next week explaining exactly who are the beneficiaries of the £13 million from the lottery fund that was used to buy the Churchill papers? If those papers are part of our national heritage, why on earth did the Government not intervene to stop them being sold off on the international market, instead of using £13 million from the lottery fund as a ransom payment to people who are quite intent on threatening to sell off our national heritage to the highest bidder?

Mr. Newton

I repeat that I am clear from our exchanges that my hon. Friends do not regard my right hon. Friend's answer as inadequate. As for the rest of what the hon. Gentleman said, the decision was taken by the independent national heritage memorial fund.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the possible introduction of a national funding formula for education? Is he aware that Derbyshire county council holds back £720 per pupil, Staffordshire holds back £550 per pupil and Nottinghamshire holds back £570 per pupil? If that money went directly into the schools, it would make quite a difference to the financial position of our schools in all those counties.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will examine carefully my hon. Friend's remarks. I hope also that the local authorities to which he has referred will do as he suggests.

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

The Leader of the House was present last week when we debated the abuse of proceedings in the Select Committee on Members' Interests. What is the Government's response? Will there be a statement on what we are to do in circumstances where a libel action in a court is given precedence over the requirements for a Committee of the House of Commons to carry out a full inquiry? Surely the Government must have a position on the matter, particularly as they have a Whip on the Committee.

Mr. Newton

You would quickly rule me out of order, Madam Speaker, were I to comment in any detail on the affairs of a Select Committee—in this case, the Select Committee on Members' Interests. My concern last week was to enable that Committee to continue its work without interruption from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

When my right hon. Friend considers the Opposition request for a debate on London's health services, will he bear in mind the fact that the Opposition had two Opposition days in the recent past on that subject? On one occasion, the Opposition's health spokesman was replaced by their campaigns co-ordinator. Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to ensure that any debate on London's health services is calm and constructive—not the sort of vote-grubbing exercise that the Opposition want?

Mr. Newton

I always do my best to ensure that all the proceedings in the House are calm and constructive.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

With the planned closure of the much-loved Bart's hospital and of other hospitals in London, and given health cuts and the discriminatory low pay award to nurses, is there not an overwhelming case for debating London's health services? Does the Leader of the House share the concern felt by me and others that, with the recent three-in-a-bed scandal involving a Member of Parliament, the Secretary of State for Health might think that a good idea for London hospitals?

Mr. Newton

In circumstances in which an extra £1.3 billion is being spent on the NHS this year, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's remarks do justice to the true situation. In referring to cuts, the hon. Gentleman did not state the correct position.

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)

Further to the question from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the extremely high levels of pay of top executives in local government—especially in the light of the fact that the county director of Derbyshire, who earns £70,000 a year, has ignored three requests from me to say by how much his salary and those of his senior executives have risen over the past five years? Should there not be a debate, so that those figures can be brought out into the open?

Mr. Newton

I have already referred to the Greenbury committee. If there is a subsequent debate, my hon. Friend might be able to raise those evidently related matters.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

As to the VE day celebrations, will the Leader of the House arrange for a Scottish Office Minister to come to the House to explain how that Department is dealing with the concerns expressed in early-day motion 871?

[That this House is deeply concerned that the intention of the Royal Proclamation of 22nd June 1994, that 8th May 1995 should be a Bank Holiday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of V.E. Day, is being undermined in Scotland; notes that unlike other parts of the United Kingdom 1st May is an annual Bank Holiday fixed by statute for Scotland; notes that in a letter of 22nd February 1995, replying to a question to the Prime Minister by the honourable Member for Falkirk East, the Department of the Environment stated 'In Scotland the anniversary will be marked by an additional day's Bank Holiday for this year only'; notes, however, that it appears that correspondence between the then Minister for Industry and Local Government in the Scottish Office, the honourable Member for Eastwood, and CBI Scotland encouraged employers to treat 8th May 1995 as a replacement for the 1st May public holiday; notes that this has led some employers such as the Post Office to withdraw the traditional May Day holiday on 1st May and substitute 8th May, in effect forcing employees to pay for their own V.E. Day holiday; and urges public and private companies to negotiate an additional holiday on 8th May so that Scots can celebrate the anniversary of the peace won by the sacrifices of so many. [R] Relevant registered interest declared.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Monday 1 May is a statutory bank holiday in Scotland, and that most public workers will get an extra day's holiday on 8 May? However, because of interference by a Scottish Office Minister, the Post Office is denying that holiday to its workers, and the Scottish Office is denying it to its workers.

Will the Department of Trade and Industry explain, even at this late date, why it will not compel the Post Office to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to avoid a strike on Monday to preserve a national holiday in Scotland, which would bring the good name of the VE day celebrations into disrepute?

Mr. Newton

I will bring the hon. Gentleman's questions to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

As the Leader of the House is aware, it would be possible to include the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill on tomorrow's Order Paper, but only if that Bill finishes in Committee. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that 113 amendments have been tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who is the Minister concerned? The filibuster involved is worse than that seen on the Floor of the House last year in respect of the previous Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.

Will the Leader of the House take action to ensure that the current Bill is allowed to progress this afternoon, so that it can be debated in the House tomorrow—as required by many hon. Members and the public?

Mr. Newton

It is not for me to comment on proceedings in a Committee at which I have not been present, and it would be improper for me to seek to control them. The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that a wide range of issues require thorough discussion. He can hardly accuse the Government of being unhelpful in a week in which we tabled a money resolution for his Bill.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)

I was surprised to hear one Conservative Back-Bench Member remark that 93 per cent. of the population are satisfied with the health service. The fact is that 93 per cent. of the population are dissatisfied with the state of the health service. May I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider, and to approve a Supply day debate on the state of the NHS?

Mr. Newton

All I will say is that I will add that request to the list of comparable requests, starting with that of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor).

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

May I raise with the Leader of the House the problem of community care, and in particular Orchard house, a nursing home in my constituency? It was recently the subject of a "Frontline Scotland" investigative programme, which exposed malpractice, mistreatment and criminal neglect of residents in that home. Because of the seriousness of the allegations, I ask the Leader of the House for a debate next week on that very important subject, because there are a considerable number of residents in nursing homes such as Orchard house, who need to be protected. I think that the House should have a debate on that.

Mr. Newton

I know that the hon. Gentleman will understand that it would be quite wrong for me to seek to comment on allegations of the kind that he has just made or reported, and I shall not attempt to do so. The proper course would be for such allegations to be investigated by the appropriate authorities—the social work department, as it would be in Scotland, or the Secretary of State; I am not sure which. I shall ensure that his remarks are drawn to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

As the Leader of the House is nervous about bringing the Secretary of State for Health before the House on a Supply day on London health before the local elections, will he at least ask her to come before the House next week to answer a specific question on an analysis that has been done on Government figures, which show that 74 out of the top 100 prescribed drugs cost less than the £5.25 cost of a prescription, and, what is more, one third of those drugs cost less than £1? That is taxation of the sick. It is about time that the Government answered that important question.

Mr. Newton

It is only slightly less than a fortnight ago that the issue of prescription charges was debated on the Floor of the House with the Minister of State. I certainly do not envisage further time for debates in the near future.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on education administration in central and local government? Is he aware that such a debate would enable clarification of remarks made to the House by the Prime Minister? Does he recall that, on 16 March, the Prime Minister told the House that there were two education administrators for every three teachers? Yet, in Prime Minister's Question Time last Tuesday, the Prime Minister said that those figures came from "Social Trends".

On checking with the Library of the House of Commons, I am assured that no such figures exist in "Social Trends". The reality is that, in the Prime Minister's own constituency, in Cambridgeshire, there is in fact one administrator for 16 teachers. Does the Leader of the House not think that it would be appropriate to have such a debate, so that we could raise those issues?

Mr. Newton

I do not think that it would be appropriate to have such a debate.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the question of the property of former Ministers and Prime 'Ministers: what belongs to them, what is personal to them and what is claimed to be their property merely because they held high office?

The revulsion throughout the country at the money that is to be paid to the Churchill family for the papers must be aired in the House. Above all, we need to know that other former Prime Ministers or their families will not make a killing out of selling their papers, which they gained solely by being in office, as a result of being elected and therefore being public servants.

Mr. Newton

I will observe in passing that it seems to me to be quite difficult to argue that letters written by a schoolboy to his mother in his early years can be counted as state papers. Clearly, there have been difficulties in determining precisely what is and what is not, but, as I understand it, the trustees of the national heritage memorial fund took careful legal advice on the question of ownership and valuation before making their decision.