HC Deb 14 December 1995 vol 268 cc1101-9 3.32 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

May I ask the Leader of the House for the 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 18 DECEMBER—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Remaining stages of the Hong Kong (Overseas Public Servants) Bill.

Motion on the Copyright and Rights in Performances Regulations.

Debate on Her Majesty's Stationery Office in relation to its future work for Parliament on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

TUESDAY 19 DECEMBER—Until 7 o'clock, debate on the common fisheries policy on a Government motion.

Motion relating to Scottish Standing Orders.

WEDNESDAY 20 DECEMBER—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House, the first of which will be the traditional three-hour debate held just before a recess in which I have to answer for everyone on everything.

Proceedings on the Humber Bridge (Debts) Bill.

I expect to make a statement next week about business after the recess.

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the Leader of the House for that limited information. He will be aware that I am extremely pleased that we are to have a debate on HMSO next week, so that we can assess the feelings of the House with regard to the privatisation, and the impact it might have on us in Parliament. That debate will be on an Adjournment motion. Can the Leader of the House give us a promise that, before the privatisation takes place, the House will be able to vote on whether it is wise to proceed in that way, especially as that particular privatisation will directly affect the House?

Secondly, the Deputy Prime Minister said earlier this afternoon that the proposed regulations on asylum and the withdrawal of benefits are not to be implemented before being debated in the House. We are pleased that the Government have responded to our representations. Will the Leader of the House state exactly when those regulations will be laid, when they will be debated and when they are expected to come into operation?

Thirdly, I have raised on previous occasions with the Leader of the House the "Day of the Jackal" loophole in relation to access to birth certificates. The subject was raised again last Monday by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) in the debate on the Asylum and Immigration Bill. On Monday, the Home Secretary said that he would like to take action on that loophole, but that he did not think that there was sufficient legislative time. As we are not under great pressure during this parliamentary Session, may I press the Leader of the House on what the Government intend to do about that loophole?

The pressure on parliamentary time itself becomes an issue when we hear that the Government have, in an announcement in Committee today, delayed the implementation of the new student loans scheme. As we have not yet seen the Bill expected from the Department for Education and Employment on nursery vouchers, surely we are right to conclude that the Government's legislation is in chaos. If we could make practical proposals, surely discussion of them would be a better use of parliamentary time than debating some of the Bills that might not end up on the statute book or be implemented.

Mr. Newton

I shall take those questions in order. No specific parliamentary procedure is required for what the Government are proposing in relation to HMSO. The first step is, as the hon. Lady has rightly acknowledged, to allow the House a proper opportunity to express its views on House aspects of the matter, in line with Madam Speaker's request. That is how we should proceed.

The hon. Lady has heard and welcomed what my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said during Prime Minister's questions about asylum benefits. The regulations will be laid before the House as soon as the Secretary of State for Social Security has had an opportunity to study the report, which he has only recently received from the Social Security Advisory Committee. We expect the regulations to come into force next year, but I repeat the firm assurance given by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister that they will not be implemented until the House has had the opportunity to debate them.

On the issue of what the hon. Lady calls the "Day of the Jackal" loophole, I have not had an opportunity to discuss the position since the exchanges on Monday. But I shall do so and give the hon. Lady an appropriate response.

Lastly, on the subject of legislation—particularly education legislation—I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has said that the Government think that it will be appropriate to start the student loans scheme in 1997 rather than 1996. That proposal was made in Standing Committee this morning.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

Before the House rises for Christmas, will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on democracy? An article in yesterday's edition of the Daily Mail, following the sad death of our friend, Sir David Lightbown, said that the Labour party was thinking of getting the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) to resign and force a by-election. It stated that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon would—in the paper's words, not mine—be imposed upon—

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

No quoting.

Sir Fergus Montgomery

I am not quoting.

Mr. Faulds

He is.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is not quoting. He is attempting to speak if given the opportunity by other hon. Members to do so, and I shall see to it that he is given that opportunity. The hon. Gentleman should speak up.

Sir Fergus Montgomery

It said that the hon. Gentleman would be "imposed" upon South-East Staffordshire. I lived in Staffordshire for some years and I assure my right hon. Friend that the people there are very independent. I do not think that they would like to have a turncoat "imposed" on them. A debate on democracy might provide an opportunity to flush out the Machiavellian princes of darkness who seem to inhabit the Labour party and who have such contempt for democracy.

Mr. Newton

I certainly understand why my hon. Friend has raised the issue: Conservative Members find the notion of imposing candidates from the centre quite extraordinary.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

Following the Deputy Prime Minister's very welcome announcement that the social services orders will not come into effect until the House has had a chance to consider them, will the Leader of the House also give an assurance that they will not come into effect until the Social Security Select Committee has concluded its consideration of them?

Mr. Newton

I cannot give that latter assurance at the moment—not least because, according to my inquiries this morning, it is not clear precisely when the Social Security Select Committee . intends to conclude its deliberations. The assurance that the Deputy Prime Minister and I have given provides the Social Security Select Committee with an opportunity to express its views if it wishes to do so.

Sir Jim Spicer (West Dorset)

Will my right hon. Friend find time in the new year for a debate on responsibility in local government? I ask for such a debate against the background of events this morning in Dorset, where the Liberal-controlled county council has forced through a ban on beef products in all of our schools against the advice of the chief medical officer and the committee examining bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The council, which is run by a small cabal who force their views upon the people of Dorset, issued a diktat and the schools had no chance to state their views. I believe that such a debate may prove very useful if we can find time for it.

Mr. Newton

I shall consider what my hon. Friend has said. There will be a further opportunity to debate local government matters generally when the local government finance orders are brought before the House in the usual way fairly early in the new year.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to my early-day motion 144:

[That this House, mindful of the increasing needs of the United Kingdom's ageing ex-service population and the many problems of younger members of the ex-service community, in direct consequence of Options for Change, considers that there is now a pressing need for a sub-department of Ex-Service Affairs within an existing Ministry and with a designated Minister to be responsible, as the only fundamental and long-term solution for the care and welfare of ex-Service people and their dependants; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government now to respond positively to the Royal British Legion's urgent call for a sub-department to be established.]

It is concerned with the care and welfare of ex-service people whom the Royal British Legion supports so strongly. In particular, has he seen that the motion has now attracted the support of a virtual majority of Members of Parliament who are at liberty to sign such motions? Can we have at least an oral ministerial statement next week on the Government's response?

Mr. Newton

I do not recall whether the right hon. Gentleman was present when the matter was debated on the Floor of the House earlier this year, but ministerial comments were made during that debate. The Government believe that the creation of a Department that is specifically responsible for former service people in the way that the right hon. Gentleman suggests would simply add another tier of administration without improving the present arrangements. We believe that the provision for former service personnel is best integrated with that for the community as a whole.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

Will my right hon. Friend enlighten us about the debate on Scottish Standing Orders to which he referred? Will that debate provide an opportunity for all hon. Members to discuss the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, in his recent interview and during his visits to Scotland, wholly repudiated the claim of right and personally humiliated the shadow Secretary of State?

Mr. Newton

It is not for me to pre-empt your views, Madam Speaker, as to what would or would not be in order during a debate on the Standing Orders, which are concerned principally with the role of the Scottish Grand Committee—but no doubt my hon. Friend will have a try.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Although I agree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) during Prime Minister's questions objecting to the violence in Brixton, it would be very foolish for hon. Members to believe that there was no just cause for it—yet another death of a black person in police custody. There have been more than 70 such deaths in the past decade and the families involved cannot get justice or even evidence of what has occurred. They believe that the system is rigged and if they cannot have the matter heard in the House they will take to the streets. When will Parliament debate black deaths in custody so that the system may be changed properly?

Mr. Newton

In view of the implications of what the hon. Gentleman has said, perhaps he should discuss them first with his hon. Friends who were sitting two Benches in front of him not long ago. They clearly stated that they considered that a small criminal element had been responsible for those activities, and did not attempt to justify them as the hon. Gentleman has. In my view they were right, and the hon. Gentleman would do well to reconsider what he has said.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is considerable concern among Members on both sides of the House—particularly Conservative Members—about the on-going influence and authority of the BBC's overseas service? While there might be grounds for adjusting its capital budget, many of us feel that there is no justification for reducing its operating budget. Will my right hon. Friend try to find time for a short debate on the subject?

Many of us are also concerned about cuts in capital spending, especially when they affect the future economic progress of our constituencies. Will my right hon. Friend try to find time for a debate on infrastructure capital spending? My constituency will be affected if urgent road projects do not proceed in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Newton

I shall always consider suggestions such as those made by my hon. Friend. I should point out, however, that funds for the World Service have increased by 50 per cent. in real terms since 1980. The current proposals entail virtually no change in the allocation for current costs—this deals directly with a point made by my hon. Friend—and are directed mainly towards the capital side.

I think my hon. Friend will acknowledge that, in this context as in others, there is significant scope for private funding under the increasingly successful private finance initiative.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Leader of the House will know that we have heard statements on Scottish and Welsh expenditure. Northern Ireland, however, has again had to be content with a press release. I understand that the House, not the press, votes Supply. In future, will it be possible for a statement on public expenditure in Northern Ireland to be made in the House rather than in a press release?

Mr. Newton

That question is linked with one that the hon. Gentleman asked me last week, to which I undertook to give further consideration. Let me answer them both at once. This year, the Secretary of State for Scotland made his statement about local government expenditure to the Scottish Grand Committee.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

As to next Wednesday's debate on the Humber Bridge (Debts) Bill, I was the defeated Conservative candidate in the Hull, North by-election in January 1966, nearly 30 years ago. In the course of the by-election, Mrs. Barbara Castle promised to build a Humber bridge, which has already cost public funds well over £400 million—perhaps not far short of £500 million—which kept me out of the House for four years and which costs the taxpayer £100 million a year. Will there be time in Wednesday's debate for us to discuss whether that amount—nearly £500 million—should be charged to the Labour party and not to the unfortunate taxpayer, as a consequence of Labour's disgraceful electoral bribe?

Mr. Newton

I profoundly hope that there will be time for the matter to be discussed.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to an article in today's Glasgow Herald about the transfer of media monitoring from the Scottish Office to a private company, and the dangers of funding party political propaganda from the public purse? That directly contradicts the statement made to me by the Secretary of State for Scotland in the Scottish Grand Committee that he knew nothing about the matter.

I am sure that the Leader of the House did not intend misleading the Scottish Grand Committee to be one of the new Scottish procedures. Will he arrange for a statement to be made to clarify the matter?

Mr. Newton

I shall arrange to be better informed about it before next week's debate on the Standing Orders.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

May I support the earlier call for a debate on the imposition of candidates? During such a debate I would be able to highlight the plight of Gravesham Labour party, which has had a women-only short-list imposed upon it. That constituency party has responded with an overwhelming majority against the imposition. It sent a resolution to the Labour party head office in Walworth road opposing the imposition. The response was a diktat saying that it does not matter what Gravesham Labour party thinks about it—

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. My attention is distracted at the moment. I have a point of order, but I have not heard it. I shall take points of order afterwards. The point of order obviously relates to what the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) is saying so I shall caution him so that I do not have a point of order later.

Mr. Arnold

May I point out that the reaction of the local Labour spokesman was to say that, despite the fact that there had been an overwhelming majority vote against the imposition in the constituency, this is new Labour democracy?

Mr. Newton

I hope that I will not tempt any hon. Member to make a point of order. I shall merely repeat my earlier observation that, to Conservatives, the way in which the Labour party proceeds in these matters seems quite extraordinary and indefensible.

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

The Leader of the House may recall that Madam Speaker kindly afforded me an Adjournment debate on the activities of Campbell's Soups in my constituency. He may know that I am campaigning throughout the country to advise the wider public not to buy Fray Bentos or Campbell's Soups products. I wish to teach Campbell's Soups a lesson: that it should reconsider its disgraceful decision to close a highly profitable plant in my constituency. In light of the fact that an American multinational company, in which the majority of shares are held by one family, took such a decision through its British subsidiary, is not there now a need to debate how multinational companies are able to operate within the free market system?

Mr. Newton

The United Kingdom has gained enormously over the past few years from investment by a wide variety of companies, many of which could no doubt be described as multinationals. They have provided many tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of jobs. One of the reasons why they come here is that they feel that our business environment is one in which they can take decisions on a commercial basis. We would be very unwise to tamper with that environment.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Will my right hon. Friend find an early opportunity to have a debate on education so that I can draw the House's attention to the success of the application made by Beauchamp college in my constituency to become a technology college, as announced yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? May I also invite him to schedule such a debate so that we can draw to the attention of the parents of children attending the Robert Smythe school in Market Harborough in my constituency the benefits of grant-maintained status, a status already enjoyed by three other schools in my constituency and which I am sure will also be enjoyed by the parents, teachers and governors of the Robert Smythe school?

Mr. Newton

I hope to provide many opportunities to debate education in the new year when we publish the Bill relating to nursery and grant-maintained schools to which the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) adverted in her opening question.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I am glad that there seems to be broad agreement in the House about the need to tighten legislation on knives. In view of the terrible tragedies that have occurred and which I mentioned on Monday, why is it necessary for the Home Secretary to nit-pick with my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary? Would not it be useful if the Home Secretary were to come to the House early next week and say that he will meet my hon. Friend to see what agreement could be reached, including the possibility—only the possibility—of making it more difficult to purchase knives in the first instance? Since there is broad agreement, why is the Home Secretary adopting a totally unnecessary confrontational style? The public recognise the need for action, and the House should deal with that.

Mr. Newton

I do not think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has adopted a confrontational style. He has sought to assist in the rapid response to the considerable public concern about an important matter. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for indicating his support for the basic propositions in the Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland).

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Why has it been decided to postpone the debate on the common fisheries policy, which my right hon. Friend announced last Thursday for yesterday, until next Tuesday? Do not the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and others involved in the European Fisheries Council meeting at the end of next week, need the maximum amount of time to consider the representations made during the debate, so that the Government's policy on fishing may accord as much as possible with the will of the House?

Mr. Newton

The arrangement of business for the three days on which the House is sitting next week has proved rather complicated—as the House will have realised from the business I read out. It simply seemed more sensible to do it in the way I announced this afternoon. Nevertheless, the fisheries debate will be in good time to meet the primary need for a debate before the Fisheries Council which, as my hon. Friend said, is later in the week.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

As we are approaching the season of good will in which families are drawn together, should not we discuss the position in Northern Ireland, where at least 258 people have been placed in exile by paramilitary groups? The families of the disappeared are still seeking the bodies of the people who have been killed. Last night, two so-called punishment beatings took place in the course of which people were kneecapped. This would surely be an appropriate time to discuss those problems and to put the matter in the correct context.

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to find time for a debate, at least not next week. However, I am sure that there will be widespread approval in the House for the implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks—that we would all like an end to that kind of activity in the interests of the families and people involved, and of progress towards a satisfactory outcome in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have a debate next week on suitable locations for education referral units for secondary pupils, so that I can tell the House about the most senseless suggestion by Ealing's Labour council—that Oldfield primary school in Greenford is a suitable location for such a centre? The council's other suggestion is that a building in Islip Manor park, Northolt would be a suitable location for such a unit.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Oh, God.

Mr. Greenway

I am being interrupted and shouted at by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). If he does not defend his constituency, I defend mine. Those units are not suitable for the places I mentioned in my constituency, and the unit should be referred to the Elthorne youth centre, which would be much more suitable.

Mr. Newton

If my hon. Friend, who is certainly a doughty defender of his constituency, were to choose to appear on Wednesday morning and raise that matter in the three-hour debate to which I have already referred, I shall try to ensure that I have an answer.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When may we debate the surprising information in a letter from the Minister for Transport in London which says that the Department of Transport, after careful, scientific calculations, has come to the conclusion that company cars are 30 to 50 per cent. more dangerous than private cars? That means an additional, probably avoidable, 6,500 to 9,250 accidents a year.

One would expect company cars to be safer, because they are driven by mature, experienced drivers; the cars are new and well maintained; and they are driven on motorways, which are safer than normal roads. Is not it vital that we have a debate to discuss how to avoid such a large number of accidents? Probably, the explanation is that the drivers do not own their cars and do not drive as safely as drivers with a financial interest in their cars.

Mr. Newton

If the hon. Gentleman's explanation is right, I suggest that it gives rise to a number of general points on which Opposition Members might like to reflect. I have not seen the letter, and the right course for me is to draw the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate on the operation of Standing Committees following the Nolan report? He will be aware that before I entered the House I was involved in the broadcasting industry for 20 years, supplying finance and services to broadcasting companies from Indonesia to Chile and from Botswana to Iceland—as well as to the BBC and Capital Radio here in London. Yet I now understand that I will not be allowed to serve on the Committee considering the Broadcasting Bill. Is that a general rule: do knowledge and qualification to discuss a subject constitute disqualification from serving on the relevant Standing Committee?

Mr. Newton

I have seen my hon. Friend's letter to Sir Gordon Downey—I hope he will not mind my mentioning it—which he kindly copied to me. I have no doubt that Sir Gordon will wish to draw it to the attention of the new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, which my hon. Friend will doubtless have been glad to note was appointed by the House and its membership agreed in a motion last night.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

May I again press the Leader of the House for an early debate on the state of the textile industry? Two weeks ago I told him about the 129 job losses at Bairdtex in Trawden, in my constituency. This time last week I told him about the 50 job losses at Smith and Nephew. This week 61 jobs are to go at the Carrington Viyella Holmefield mill in Barrowford, where colour woven fabrics will no longer be made in any quantity. Jobs are haemorrhaging from the textile industry, which used to be the economic mainstay of my area. That is a proper issue for an urgent debate.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise a dedicated debate, but I would once again draw attention to the opportunities next Wednesday morning, when the Leader of the House will have a chance to make some comments.

Mr. Foulkes

I should like to back up what my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) has just said. If there is such a debate, we can also, I hope, debate the carpet industry. In my constituency a number of jobs have been lost in the Richards carpet factory, thereby creating tremendous problems. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House would welcome an opportunity for such a debate, so I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give it serious consideration.

Mr. Newton

I always give serious consideration to points that deserve it—and those raised by both hon. Members undoubtedly do. For the moment, however, I must point yet again to Wednesday morning, which increasingly looks as if it is going to be quite a busy time for me.