HC Deb 20 December 1995 vol 268 cc1544-50 4.13 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

Will the Leader of the House please give us the details of future business?

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

The business for the period after the imminent recess—at least I hope that it is imminent—will be as follows:

TUESDAY 9 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Second Reading of the Security Service Bill.

THURSDAY 11 JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Rating (Caravans and Boats) Bill.

Debate on progress on business links on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 12 JANUARY—The House will not be sitting.

More provisionally, the business for the second week back which I expect to include is as follows. On Monday 15 January, there will be the Second Reading of the Finance Bill; on Tuesday 16 January, the first allotted Opposition day, there will be a debate on an Opposition motion, the subject of which will no doubt be decided nearer the time; I am not yet in a position to give details of the business on Wednesday 17 January; on Thursday 18 January I intend to have a debate on the Army on a motion for the Adjournment of the House; and Friday 19 January is the first day for Second Readings of private Members' Bills.

Mrs. Taylor

May I thank the Leader of the House for that information? He knows from business questions last week that we were pleased that he decided to withdraw from debate the regulations that would withdraw benefit from asylum seekers. We advocated the withdrawal of the regulations because we thought it was wrong that such measures should be activated before a debate had taken place in the House. The Leader of the House will be aware that the Select Committee on Social Security is also considering that issue, and I wonder whether he can give an assurance to the House that the debate on those regulations will not take place before we have the benefit of the Committee's report on them.

Is it possible to have an early debate on the conditions in Holloway prison, which so alarmed the new chief inspector of prisons? In particular, it would be useful to have a debate so that Ministers have an opportunity to tell the House how long they have been aware of that appalling situation.

Do the Government intend to publish a White Paper setting out Government policy on the issues to be discussed at the intergovernmental conference of the European Union, which will start at the end of March? That would be very useful, because it is important that the House has ample opportunity to debate such issues before those negotiations and discussions get under way.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that there will be a ministerial statement and report to the House on the Fisheries Council, which starts tomorrow, so that Members will be able to judge to what extent the Government have taken on board the concerns that led to last night's defeat for the Government?

Mr. Newton

I cannot give an assurance that the Government will not propose a debate on the regulations on benefits for asylum seekers until the intended report is received from the Social Security Select Committee: not least because I think that urgent action is needed, for reasons that have been explained to the House. I do not know when the Select Committee's report might arrive. I repeat what I said last week—the undertakings that the Deputy Prime Minister and I gave should provide an opportunity for the Social Security Select Committee to complete its deliberations. We would welcome sight of the report before any debate takes place in the House.

The hon. Lady left it to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker)—I make no complaint about that—to deal with this morning's debate. Therefore, she will not have had time to receive a report on it, and still less to study it.

Mrs. Taylor

Yes, I have.

Mr. Newton

If she has been able to see a report, it must have been by mysterious means into which I will not inquire. In that case, she will be aware that I made some observations on the subject of Holloway in my speech this morning, to which I refer her.

On the subject of a White Paper on the IGC, I am not in a position to add to what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary in the recent debate, and in other exchanges that have taken place.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would expect to report to the House, in the usual way and at the appropriate time, on the outcome of the Fisheries Council.

Mr. David Congdon (Croydon, North-East)

Will my right hon. Friend find time when we return from the recess for a debate on waste in local government so that hon. Members have a chance to consider the £200 million being wasted by Hackney council on paying 100 employees who should be made redundant but for the council's no compulsory redundancy policy?

Mr. Newton

As I have observed on several recent occasions, I am glad to say that there will be further opportunity to debate local government matters. For example, my hon. Friend may be fortunate in catching the eye of the Chair during the debate on the local government finance orders, which normally come before the House towards the end of January or early February.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I support the plea for an urgent report to be made early in the new year on the result of the discussions in the Fisheries Council meeting to be held later this week. The business has yet to be announced for 17 January, and it would certainly be of benefit to some of us who have fishing interests in our constituencies to know what chance there is of a sensible reform of the common fisheries policy at next year's IGC. Does the Leader of the House also accept that there is a need for a debate in Government time on the privatisation of the railways?

Mr. Newton

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to respond with an immediate acceptance of the latter request in his question, given the amount of discussion that there has been just recently about the railways. However, the franchising process is now going ahead extremely well, so I see some attractions in such a debate. I might even be able to satisfy the hon. Gentleman in due course.

On the first half of the hon. Gentleman's question, obviously he can and has supported the representations about the common fisheries policy, and in my characteristically reasonable way, I have taken note of his support for the representations made.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Will my right hon. Friend consider trying to give time for a debate on exports, so that we can review the considerable achievements in recent months of British industry in the export market, in particular the engineering industry of the west midlands? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that such a debate would give us the opportunity to expose those Labour party policies that can be found and the damage that they would do to our exporting record?

Mr. Newton

I might venture to suggest to my hon. Friend that the debate that I have announced for Thursday 11 January on progress on business links might provide an opportunity to make some reference to exports because the purpose of those links is to improve all the supporting services to firms, not least small firms, which are contributing greatly to our export performance.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

May we have a debate on child labour laws in Britain and the totally inadequate consultation exercise that the Government are carrying out, which will conclude at the end of January? It is proposed to deregulate further child labour so that children in Britain will be less protected than any of their counterparts in the European Union. It is important that we have a debate on that instead of the Government introducing further deregulation through the back door.

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Lady's request, and she would expect no less. I wonder whether people who raise such issues have contemplated how much unnecessary upset would be caused, for example, if we followed the path that some advocate, which would prevent a large part of the British population from making newspaper rounds, which help the community and those making them, and which seem entirely reasonable to me.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

Can my right hon. Friend find time for another debate on legal aid? He will be aware that many of our constituents are concerned that the Lord Chancellor continues to make civil legal aid available to persons from overseas, who have no real and substantial connection with this country. He will be aware that the funds available to the Legal Aid Board are limited. How can we explain to our constituents who are just above the income or capital limit that there is no money available to give them legal aid, but money is available for persons coming from abroad?

Mr. Newton

I would not rule out further discussions on that matter in due course, but I cannot promise them in the first fortnight back after the recess.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I am sorry to hear that the Leader of the House does not have the modern facilities that I have in my office, which enable me to watch what is going on in the Chamber while I do constituency work. Some weeks ago, he may recall that I asked him for a debate on Ordtech and the result of the Court of Appeal judgment in that case. I am still waiting for an answer, and I note that 17 January is available for such a debate. Should we not have that debate before the Scott inquiry reports at the end of January, so that we all know what has been going on?

Mr. Newton

I shall examine what the hon. Gentleman has said. I must admit that I was still thinking about his comment about the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). I understood that she had other commitments elsewhere; I did not realise that they were with the television. My response was directed at my interpretation of her remarks that she had seen an account of this morning's proceedings in the House. But perhaps she has merely talked to the hon. Member for Perry Barr, who I am sure gave her a very accurate account of events.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Last week I raised with my right hon. Friend the matter of the adverse impact of road construction programme cuts upon business in my constituency. My right hon. Friend referred to the business links debate that is to occur on Thursday 11 January. Would it be appropriate for me to raise during that debate the matter of the adverse impact that those cuts are having upon Macclesfield and its links with the excellent and growing Manchester international airport?

Mr. Newton

That would be for the Chair to decide. As I suspect my hon. Friend knows, the links in the phrase business links refer to the flow of information rather than the flow of goods. I am not sure whether I am allowed to refer to his presence as he is below the Bar of the House, but it must be within the knowledge of the House that the Secretary of State for Transport has heard what my hon. Friend has said. Therefore, I think that we can assume that his remarks have found the right target.

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

Has the Leader of the House considered the request that I made last week for a debate on the textile and carpet industry? Since then, I have received a letter from the British Carpet Manufacturers Association expressing concern about the grant that the French Government are to give to the Beaulieu carpet group in Belgium to establish a plant in northern France and the alleged unfairness of the grant under European Union rules. That is one of many issues that could be considered during such a debate. Many people are concerned about the state of the textile and carpet industry and I think that hon. Members on both sides would welcome an early opportunity to debate the matter.

Mr. Newton

I was not aware of the particular point that the hon. Gentleman raised in his question, but I shall ensure that it is brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I keep a little list—if I can put it like that—of matters for debate. I cannot promise that I shall be able to strike the hon. Gentleman's name off that list, but I can promise him that he is still on it.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Could we have a debate on law and order early next year so that we can highlight the way in which the Criminal Justice Acts are beginning to hit the villains? Is my right hon. Friend aware of the sentence of 27 years' imprisonment passed today on a burglar whose practice was to threaten to poke out a pensioner's eye with a screwdriver? Is that not a disgraceful crime and is it not jolly good to see that such villains are increasingly being dealt with?

Mr. Newton

By happy coincidence, a photocopy of the front page of the Evening Standard happened to fall into my hands on my way into the Chamber, so I am aware of the story. I think that many people will welcome the length of the sentence in that case. As my hon. Friend says, that sentence results from criminal justice legislation passed by the Government: section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

I was the only hon. Member present who was unable to participate in this morning's debate—such debates used to have short speeches, but they were often long speeches today. I wished to raise the matter of the democratic deficit in local government, Northern Ireland, this country and the European Union. Would it not be a good idea to have an early debate on that subject, to which the Leader of the House could respond?

Mr. Newton

We have had a number of opportunities in recent weeks to debate matters relating to the European Union, and no doubt there will be more in due course. I felt sorry for the hon. Gentleman this morning: it was unfortunate that he was here for three hours and did not manage to participate in the debate. I had harboured hopes that he would be the only person to wish me a happy Christmas—I shall assume that he meant to do so when he rose this afternoon.

Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the recent publication of the Committee on Public Accounts on the Child Support Agency's continuing problems. If, as I suspect, those problems continue to dominate his postbag and surgeries as they do mine, would it be appropriate to have a debate on the Child Support Agency early in the new year?

Mr. Newton

I still have a number of cases in my own surgery. The most recent was last weekend. I acknowledge the point that my hon. Friend makes, and I hope that in return he will acknowledge that the report was based on the agency's operation in its first year—1993–94—which is some considerable time ago. At the very least, we should acknowledge that much has been done since then to improve the accuracy and performance of the agency, although of course my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will give careful consideration to the report's recommendations and respond in the usual time in the usual way.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I sat through the fisheries debate yesterday, but was unlucky enough not to be called; does the Leader of the House agree that the ministerial report to the House on the decisions taken by the Council of Fisheries Ministers meeting should form the introduction of a debate on the practical implications of such decisions? Members who represent fishing interests would then have time to assimilate those decisions and their consequences. In addition, such a debate would allow us to put to the Minister the concerns of the fishermen whom we represent.

Mr. Newton

In view of the hon. Gentleman's frustration—which I had not previously realised— in respect of the first part of yesterday's business, I am glad that he managed to get in several times during the second debate. However, even with my natural desire to please everyone before Christmas, I cannot promise him an immediate further debate on fisheries.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

While wishing my right hon. Friend a happy Christmas, I hope to influence him to have a debate on how we can attract people into public life. Is he aware that the appalling display earlier today, when the Opposition attacked a perfectly honourable person, will discourage anyone from entering public life when they might be prone to such witch hunts?

Mr. Newton

I shall not add to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage said on a number of occasions, but the exchange had an unfortunate flavour of wishing to disregard all the considerations of what had actually happened and the judgment as to how the director general was doing his job and, as my right hon. Friend said, of simply finding a scapegoat and taking the easy way out. That is not the way that any of us ought to behave on anything.

Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West)

May we have a debate after Christmas on the Crown Prosecution Service, bearing in mind press reports that the Lord Chancellor is looking at the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service?

Mr. Newton

Of course, I shall add that to my list of issues for consideration. The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill that is currently being discussed in another place will arrive here in due course. As that is concerned with procedures, it might just possibly provide some opportunities, but in any event, as I have said to my hon. Friend, I shall put his request on my little list.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

In view of last night's defeat, would not it be a good idea in the new year—perhaps the Leader of the House could study it over the holidays—for the Government to introduce a system so that we could have a confidence motion once a month, so that the Government could be ready, just in case, for all the subsequent defeats that might happen? In other words, they could programme it in and perhaps they might get their people to turn up more often.

Mr. Newton

That seems a long way from wishing me a happy Christmas. I shall put that thought out of my head for a while.

Madam Speaker

I will wish the right hon. Gentleman a happy Christmas.

Mr. Newton

Thank you Madam Speaker. I reciprocate that wholeheartedly.

Mr. Fabricant

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

It would be a day when I did not get a point of order.

Mr. Fabricant

Has anyone wished you a happy Christmas, Madam Speaker?

Madam Speaker

Yes—the Leader of the House, on behalf, I hope, of the entire House.