§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
Will the Leader of the House please announce the business for next week?
§ 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 30 JANUARY—Completion of consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.
TUESDAY 31 JANuARY—Opposition Day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate entitled "The threat to the existence of the NHS resulting from Government policies" on an Opposition motion.
Motion on the Police Grant Report (England and Wales).
WEDNESDAY 1 FEBRUARY—Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Motions on the English revenue support grant reports. Details will be given in the Official Report.
THURSDAY 2 FEBRUARY—Until 7 o'clock, motions on the Social Security (Incapacity for Work) (General) Regulations and the Social Security (Incapacity Benefit) (Transitional) Regulations.
That will be followed by a debate on the allocation of the 1995–96 science budget on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
FRIDAY 3 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.
The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet on Wednesday 1 February at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows: Committee A, EC document No. 8958/94 relating to recording equipment in road transport; Committee B, EC document No. 4075/94, relating to agreement on social policy; EC document No. 6230/94, relating to the establishment of European committees for informing and consulting employees; and EC document No. 9069/94, relating to European social policy.
§ [Wednesday 1 February: European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community documents: 8958/94, relating to recording equipment in road transport. Relevant European Legislation Committee report: HC 48-xxvii (1993–94).
European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: (a) 4075/94, relating to agreement on social policy; (b) 6230/94, relating to informing and consulting employees (European Works Council); (c) 9069/94, relating to European social policy. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: (a) HC 48-vii (1993–94) and HC48-xxvi (1993–94); (b) HC 48-xx (1993–94) and HC 48-xxvi (1993–94); (c) HC 48-xxvi (1993–94), HC 70-i (1994–95); and HC 70-iv (1994–95).
§ Floor of the House—English revenue support grant reports. The relevant reports are as follows: Local Government Finance Report (England) 1995–96; Limitation of Council Tax and Precepts (Relevant Notional Amounts) Report (England) 1995–96; Special Grant Report (No. 12).]
In the following week, on Monday 6 February, I hope to set down for Second Reading the Agricultural Tenancies Bill [Lords], and I hope to take a number of orders on either Tuesday or Wednesday. On Thursday 9 476 February, I expect to provide for a debate on the White Paper on the future of the BBC on a motion for the Adjournment.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I thank the Leader of the House for that information. Does he realise that there is concern that the House will be debating the English revenue support grant reports on Wednesday, but that the relevant documentation will not be available until Monday, leaving inadequate time for Members to be briefed as fully as they would wish?
Will the Leader of the House consider also an issue of greater concern? Will he look again at the business for Thursday and, in particular, the regulations on incapacity benefit? He will be aware that Ministers have acknowledged that those regulations are inadequate, and therefore defective, in that they do not cover how the new Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Act will affect people who have mental health problems. Much concern has been expressed about a move towards enabling legislation generally, and it is difficult for the House to be put in the position of being asked to agree to regulations next Thursday when we know that the regulations will have to be amended and debated again at a later date.
When do the Government intend to find time for a debate on the civil service on the Floor of the House, not least because—as was pointed out during Prime Minister's questions—the Government have today published their response to the Select Committee report and the consultations on the White Paper by means of a written answer? The House would wish to know when there is likely to be a proper debate on that issue.
Finally, instead of the flawed regulations that are down for debate on Thursday, could we have a debate on the cuts in the budget of the Countryside Council for Wales? Those cuts are serious, and there is widespread concern that the Countryside Commission will not be able to meet its obligations under the biodiversity convention or the European habitat and species directive. The concern has now led to speculation that there are about to be elements of privatisation involved in the matter, which could include the privatisation of Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons.
§ Mr. Newton
Taking those points in order, I shall certainly look into the point that the hon. Lady raised about the documentation in relation to the revenue support grant orders. I say that without making a commitment to make a change, but obviously if I can accelerate the arrival of the information in any way, I shall be glad to do so. I would not wish to encourage expectation that I could postpone the debate that is planned for Wednesday, but I shall be as helpful as I can in respect of the documentation.
The hon. Lady's second point related to the incapacity for work regulations. I understand that they have been discussed by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, but there are problems of the kind to which the hon. Lady alluded. I would not want to make a snap judgment on the action that I shall take, but—I hope that the hon. Lady accepts this as being in good faith—I shall certainly undertake to look into the matter and undertake further consultation through the usual channels should that seem appropriate.
477 I shall bear in mind the hon. Lady's request for a civil service debate. She went on to make a tendentious suggestion for what might take the place of the debate on the incapacity for work regulations should any action be taken in that respect. Even with all the good will that I have tried to put into my first three answers, I do not think that I could promise a debate on a matter which, in my view, she has overstated and, to some extent, mis-stated.
§ Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)
Will my right hon. Friend find time to allow the House to debate the rules and regulations governing the consultation procedures between airports and those who live around them? Is he aware that Manchester airport recently had a change in its standard instrument departure route, better known to my constituents as the flight path? That has meant that a number of people now have planes flying over their houses which have not done so in the past. It seems that, under the present consultation procedures, everybody was consulted apart from those who now have planes flying over their houses. Will my right hon. Friend find time to allow a debate on that matter?
§ Mr. Newton
I do not think that I can promise to find time to allow the matter to he debated, but I can promise to bring my hon. Friend's point, which was new to me, to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary.
§ Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)
May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 494, which has now been signed by more than 100 hon. Members?
[That this House notes that 29th January 1995 is the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp; joins in mourning the millions of victims of Nazism who died there and in other such death camps; sends its greetings to the survivors, their relatives and the world leaders who are gathering in Poland to commemorate the liberation; and joins with the Jewish people and all other sufferers from Nazism in its determination to ensure that the memory of the past will be a beacon to the future and that there will never be another Holocaust.]
As tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that he should allow some time for the House to join in mourning the victims of Nazism who died there—people of all faiths—and to join world leaders, the leaders of Jewish communities and other survivors and sufferers who are gathered in Poland to commemorate that event, to show that we shall not forget the past and ensure that there is no future holocaust?
§ Mr. Newton
While I am not able to do exactly as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests, I hope that the very fact that he raised that matter and enabled me to endorse the feelings that we all have at the time of this anniversary about the events uncovered at that time, will be a mark of the respect that hon. Members on both sides of the House would wish to pay to those who suffered in the camps. I think that the whole House will be pleased that Lord 478 Jakobovits, the former Chief Rabbi, is representing the Queen at the official Polish ceremony and the later Jewish ceremony in respect of those events.
§ Sir Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam)
May we have an urgent debate in view of the article in The Spectator on 21 January entitled, "This won't wash", which is also known as the McKinstry report, so that the electorate may be made aware of what a Labour Government could, or would, be like?
§ Mr. Newton
Having read the article with increasing astonishment at the author, but increasing recognition of what was described, I am once more much tempted by a debate and shall certainly keep that thought in mind.
§ Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)
Does the Leader of the House accept that the changes to the Child Support Agency announced by the Secretary of State for Social Security on Monday were welcome, as far as they went? Does he also acknowledge that much uncertainty still exists about the consequences of those changes for families? When does he expect to introduce legislation to give effect to those amendments, and will he assure the House that, when he does so, we shall have an opportunity to consider the Child Support Act in its first principles?
§ Mr. Newton
There are two points. First, I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman when the Bill will be introduced, but we shall try to do so as rapidly as possible and work to that end is very much in train, as I well know. A number of illustrative examples of the workings of the proposed new arrangements, in comparison with existing arrangements, were published at the time of the White Paper. I hope that they will have been helpful to many families involved. On the latter part of the question, the scope of the debate will clearly be related to the scope of the Bill and, since I do not have that, I would be very unwise to give the hon. Gentleman any specific undertakings.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
May I remind my right hon. Friend that this weekend marks not only the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, but the 1,000th day of the siege of Sarajevo, which shows that evil has not passed from this world? Will he take this opportunity to salute the courage and dignity of the citizens of Sarajevo? May I draw his attention to early-day motion 468, which marks that occasion?
[That this House salutes the citizens of Sarajevo, as they mark 1,000 days of seige, for the courage and dignity with which they have withstood devastations and privations no civilised community should be called upon to bear; expresses its profound regret that none of the institutions of the international community have been able effectively to deter the aggression of those Bosnian Serbs who accept the leadership of Radovan Karadic; believes it is essential that such aggression should not be rewarded and that what the Mayor of Sarajevo has recently referred to as 'the exceptional and unique charms of multiculturalism', of which the city has been such a shining example, are not allowed to perish; and urges Her Majesty's Government to give whatever support it can to ensure that Sarajevo survives as an open and united city and capital of an independent nation.]
May I also draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 450, which deals with the situation in Chechnya?
479 [That this House, whilst recognising that Chechnya has for many years been part of the Russian Federation and that it is entirely acceptable for any legitimate government of a nation state to assert its authority over those who unilaterally seek to declare their independence, nevertheless believes that such action should never include the indiscriminate slaughter of a civilian population and the wanton destruction of their homes; considers that those who take such action should not expect their conduct to go unchallenged; accordingly denounces the action taken by Russian troops in Chechnya as being a gross violation of the standards of behaviour acceptable in a civilised society; contends that those who ordered such action have also violated the principles of the Helsinki agreements and forfeited the moral authority to be accepted as the sole arbiters of the fate of the Chechen people; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to refer recent events in Chechnya to the Security Council of the United Nations and to urge that a code of internationally acceptable conduct for resolving internal disputes within nations, which gives neither encouragement to rebellion nor approval to genocide, be agreed.]
Do not those two events illustrate the need for an early debate on foreign affairs?
§ Mr. Newton
I join my hon. Friend in his comments about the people of Sarajevo and in his awareness of the situation in Chechnya. Once again, I am not in a position to promise a debate at this moment, but I shall, as ever, bear my hon. Friend's thoughts in mind.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
On Wednesday's business at 2 o'clock, on the Libyan sanctions and Lockerbie, may I ask the Leader of the House a question of which I have given both his office and the private secretary to the Foreign Secretary notice? Before that debate, can the Government confirm or deny their view of the reports that emanate from the air intelligence unit of the department of the United States air force, to the effect that Ali Akbar Mostahemi, former Iranian Minister of the Interior at the time of the shooting down of the Vincennes and later ambassador to Damascus between 1982 and 1985, paid $10 million in gold and cash with the purpose of boxing—to use the American expression—Pan Am 103?
§ Mr. Newton
Not for the first time, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his question. As he will probably be aware, since I understand that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is answering two questions on this subject this afternoon; and as the hon. Gentleman—I am glad to say—has secured an Adjournment debate next Wednesday to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary hopes personally to reply, the hon. Gentleman will understand why I do not think it appropriate to go into his question this afternoon.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
Will my right hon. Friend consider early-day motion 329?
[That this House welcomes the theme marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, namely, We, the peoples, united for a better world; appreciates that this hope for a better world can be realised only if the successor generation is involved now; welcomes the Council for Education in World Citizenship's non-partisan work over more than 50 years supporting education for international understanding and 480 responsibility among young people and their teachers; recognises that current proposals to phase out the funding for the Council for Education in World Citizenship would put at risk the continuation of the work of the Council for Education in World Citizenship; and calls on the Government to strengthen its support for the Council for Education in World Citizenship to enable the Council to increase its valuable work through schools and colleges.]
The motion concerns the Council for Education in World Citizenship. Would it be possible to include that subject in a foreign affairs debate; or perhaps to obtain a statement from the Department for Education on whether it can find more funding so that our young people can be made aware of world issues such as Bosnia, the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the concentration camps and other such events, to show that, the world is not always a benign place?
§ Mr. Newton
I cannot offer further funds for that excellent work, but I certainly hope that it will continue to be well supported. Were there to be a debate on foreign affairs, I would of course bear my hon. Friend's suggestion in mind.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
May we have a debate as soon as possible on employment conditions, so that we may discuss this week's figures, which reveal that workers in Britain work longer hours than their counterparts in any other country in the European Community? Uniquely in the Community, British working hours have been increasing over the past decade. The Government's policy is to have huge numbers of people unemployed at the same time as making those in jobs work ever longer hours. Does not that suggest a Government of unique economic incompetence?
§ Mr. Newton
That is one of the silliest questions I have heard for some time. I have not yet seen the report, but I understand that much of the increase in hours is due to increased overtime being worked. Those gaining from the overtime may not welcome the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question. If the statistics that he cites prove anything, they show why we have one of the most successful economies in Europe.
§ Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)
Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on the spending policies of the Labour-Liberal-controlled Kent county council, which has brought the county to financial ruin and anarchy? Will he also take steps to point out to the Secretary of State for Education the fact that the Kent chief education officer is behaving more like a politician than a responsible public servant?
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend's remarks seem to tie in remarkably well with the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir I. Patnick) about the need for a debate on a recent article in The Spectator. Should it prove possible to stage such a debate, it is clear that my hon. Friend could make a fruitful contribution to it.
§ Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South)
Will the Leader of the House give us a debate, or at least arrange for a statement from the relevant Minister, on the severe weather conditions of the past 24 hours in the north of England, particularly in West Yorkshire? Tragically, there have been about six deaths, and 5,000 people have been stranded on the M62. What action do the Government 481 intend to take to support the local authorities and other organisations that will need to spend money following those tragic events? There is sometimes a feeling in the north that, just because it is the north, it does not get the attention that it deserves.
§ Mr. Newton
On the last point—whether or not that is believed—I would resist any such suggestion. On the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question, every hon. Member, whether he is from the south, the north or any other part of the country, and on both sides of the House, would wish to express sympathy at the situation faced by so many people in the area to which he referred. I shall, of course, bring his request that the matter be considered to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate next week on early-day motion 403?
[That this House, whilst appreciating the appeal of hormone replacement therapy to many women, strongly urges the Canadian Government not to enforce a humane code on the country's 485 pregnant mares' urine business farms which produce materials for use in HRT by cruel methods and then to eliminate these farms altogether in favour of the production of synthetically produced hormones, thus obviating unnecessary suffering by horses as well as meeting demands for this drug.]
The motion draws the attention of the House to the brutal way in which hormone replacement therapy materials are obtained from mares in Canada—
§ Mr. Greenway
I know that HRT benefits some people—they think so, anyhow.
As HRT can be obtained more efficiently by synthesis, may we debate that early-day motion, with a view to seeking to influence the Canadian Government?
§ Mr. Newton
That, perhaps, is a subject that my hon. Friend might wish to bear in mind for the productive area of our new Wednesday morning debates. I do not think that I can provide time for a debate, but I welcome the fact that the Canadian Government have recently revised the code governing the treatment of those horses, and that all farms currently satisfy relevant guidelines. I very much hope that that is the case.
§ Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East)
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate or—at the very least—a statement on the rules of procedure governing the placing of advertisements by or on behalf of Ministers? I refer particularly to an advertisement in yesterday's edition of The Guardian, headedEnding discrimination against disabled people",which is described as being issued on behalf of the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. It was the day after the Disability Discrimination Bill received its Second Reading and before the House had formally submitted the Bill to scrutiny in Standing Committee for consideration or amendment. Surely the Government 482 spend a small fortune as it is on news manipulation, news management and public relations. How can such expenditure possibly be justified?
§ Mr. Newton
I have not seen the advertisement and will bring the hon. Lady's comments to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People.
§ Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)
Has my right hon. Friend any plans to allow time for a debate on possible changes to the quarantine regulations? Is he aware that the Select Committee on Agriculture produced a lengthy report with certain recommendations, and that yesterday my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food rejected those recommendations? In view of the fact that there is wide interest in the subject, is not it appropriate that the House should debate the recommendations rather than leave it at that?
§ Mr. Newton
I saw the Select Committee's response, and my right hon. Friend made it clear that he shared many of its concerns, especially its determination to maintain effective safeguards, for example, against rabies. I cannot immediately promise a debate, but will bear my hon. Friend's request in mind.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Is the Leader of the House aware that, in the past few months, quite a number of contracts have been handed out by British Coal to various firms, under the privatisation of the coal industry? Will he arrange for a statement to be made by a Minister next week in view of the fact that there is a lot of consternation about the contract that has been handed out to Mr. R.J. Budge—a contract that was reduced by £100 million after the initial bid made? It is based on a very shaky financial base and many people are worried about whether that contract can be sustained in an industry that can be beset by geological difficulties, as well as anything else. Can a statement be made about the financial problem that might well arise in the coal industry because of that contract?
§ Mr. Newton
I cannot promise a statement, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will examine the hon. Gentleman's remarks with care.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that quite a number of Conservative Members would appreciate an early debate on the civil service, particularly as we now learn that a written answer is to be published in Hansard later today, outlining some of the Government's response to the recent Select Committee report? As I served on that Select Committee and heard all the evidence, I wonder whether he is aware that some of us believe that there are strong grounds already for a fully fledged new civil service code with statutory backing. Will he consider that carefully before such a debate?
§ Mr. Newton
Having now had requests for a debate from both sides of the House, I shall consider them with even greater care.
§ Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)
Will the Leader of the House find time in the near future for a debate on student financial support? Is he aware that Durham university in my constituency is regarded as one of the most affluent universities in Britain, yet many 483 students there face great difficulties, particularly mature students who had their grants stopped under the recent Budget announcement? Such a debate is important so that the House can express its feelings towards those students, many of whom are now troubled by the fact that they may not be able to continue their courses at the university. In addition, the prospect of financial difficulties may stop youngsters going into higher education.
§ Mr. Newton
I should preface my remarks by saying that, despite somewhat similar suggestions over quite a long period now, there has, nevertheless, continued to be a large increase in the numbers going into higher and further education, something that we all welcome. However, I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Will my right hon. Friend find time at an early date for one of the traditional annual single-service days in order to give right hon. and hon. Members an opportunity to debate the merits of locating the Army Chaplain school at Royal Air Force Amport house alongside the Naval Chaplain school, which is co-located with the Royal Air Force at Amport house, to their mutual advantage?
§ Mr. Newton
I note my hon. Friend's representations on a particular point that might be covered in such a debate. More generally, of course I shall be looking at an appropriate time for the debate that my hon. Friend has in mind, but I cannot make any precise predictions about the date at the moment.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
As we recall the horrors of the holocaust, will the Leader of the House provide Government time so that we can debate the menace of today's Nazis? Such a debate would enable us to draw the attention of the Attorney-General to the activities of organisations such as Combat 18 and the British National party, which are indivisible and are publishing stickers in West Yorkshire and elsewhere saying:National socialism lives on! Combat 18.They are publishing a post office box number for the British National party on a sticker calling for "Rights for whites". That would enable the Attorney-General to instruct the police forces to take urgent action against those organisations and, at the very least, to close down box numbers that are being used to promote racial hatred throughout Britain.
§ Mr. Newton
I share the hon. Gentleman's distaste for the material that he has brought to our attention and the comments that he reports as having been made in it. But I take his question really to be a request that the Attorney-General should look at his suggestion and I shall ensure that that is done.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
I read an article this morning in the Daily Mail concerning Alastair Campbell, the Labour party's media guru, in which it was said that he thought that the report from the independent schools unit, which inspected his children's school, was useful. I remember that the Opposition fought strenuously against the establishment of that organisation. Therefore, would it not be useful for us to have an early debate on education, so that we can discuss the sort of. information which we are now giving to parents and which we shall 484 give to parents in the future, and so that they can make proper judgments about the sort of education that their children are receiving?
§ Mr. Newton
It is increasingly clear that such a debate would be useful, if only to demonstrate that so many members of the Labour Front-Bench team and prominent persons connected with them find our education policies so useful.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), may we have an early statement by the Lord Advocate to the Scottish Grand Committee, bearing in mind the fact that hon. Members have had no opportunity to question any Lord Advocate during the entire 16 years of this Tory Government, and the pressing need for the present Lord Advocate to explain any Crown Office involvement in the scandalous cover-up of information relating to those responsible for the Lockerbie bombing?
§ Mr. Newton
As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, he has secured an Adjournment debate on the matter, which will take place on Wednesday. Perhaps the appropriate course is to wait and see what is said in that debate.
§ Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough)
In view of the extraordinary behaviour of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) this afternoon, I wonder whether—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. When an action has been taken in the House, it is totally forgotten and is water under the bridge. I do not want to hear it referred to again.
§ Mr. Sykes
I am grateful to you for explaining that, Madam Speaker. In that case, may we have a debate on parliamentary privilege so that we can discuss the fact that many Opposition Members who have legitimate business interests are frightened of registering them in the Register of Members' Interests because of the Labour party Gestapo? That suggests to me that there are many abuses of privilege, and that they are not all located on the Conservative Benches.
§ Mr. Newton
I hesitate to try to arrange such a debate now, not least because, as Chairman of the current Privileges Committee, I might find it somewhat difficult to take part in it. No doubt my hon. Friend's remarks will be noted by the Opposition Front Bench and other Opposition Members.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
Will the Leader of the House reconsider his decision relating to the regulations on incapacity for work, which are to be debated next week? The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments examined the regulations and found that the information in them was correct; the information in amending measures may also be correct, but the Committee thinks it unhelpful to those who must read such regulations if a series of amendments is made and all the information cannot be read together.
Would it not be much better for the House, and certainly for the general public, if the material were replaced by a version containing all the necessary 485 information, rather than our having two versions, which—although correct in themselves—could well mislead the general public?
§ Mr. Newton
The hon. Gentleman referred to my "decision", but I believe that what I said to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor)—I suspect that she would agree—was that I undertook to consider the points that she raised. I shall also consider the hon. Gentleman's elaboration of those points.
§ Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)
Will my right hon. Friend confer with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, with a view to the Government's withdrawing the regulations governing the transition from invalidity to incapacity benefit and substituting a new set of regulations that would treat at least some of those who will lose as a result of the current plans more favourably? I refer particularly to those over the age of 55.
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend has progressed from what might be called the technicalities and procedural difficulties on which the previous two questions focused, and asks me to undertake a revision of policy as well. That goes rather further than I am able to go.
§ Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)
May we have a debate, or at least a statement, enabling the House to consider the parameters of discretion being exercised by the Secretary of State for the Environment in his dealings with audits of local authorities?
The Leader of the House will know that the Secretary of State has so far refused to order an extraordinary audit of Westminster city council, although such an audit was ordered for both Lambeth and Liverpool. The auditor in Westminster is now finding that the continuing allegations are banking up and need to be dealt with; but they cannot be dealt with without the necessary mechanism. That is destroying Westminster city council's ability to clean out the stables and get on with its business, and it is damaging the reputation of local government throughout the land.
§ Mr. Newton
I understand that the proceedings in the wake of last year's controversies involving Westminster are still continuing. I think that it would be appropriate for us to see how those proceedings turn out before taking the action suggested by the hon. Gentleman; but I shall of course ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment knows of his representations.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
Could we have a debate next week on the central administration of local education authorities and the need for those administrations to reduce their spending in line with the money that grant-maintained schools take with them to local decision making? During that debate, we could raise the case of Kent, where parents have voted overwhelmingly for 88 schools to become grant-maintained. However, Kent county council, which is run by the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, has failed proportionately to reduce its spending on central administration. Despite a 2 per cent. increase in Government grant to Kent county council, that has led for the first time to school budgets being cut by 1 per cent.
§ Mr. Newton
If my hon. Friend is asking for a debate, it occurs to me that the points that he made, which link 486 to those made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) appear, subject to your ruling, Madam Speaker, to be fairly directly relevant to Wednesday's debate.
§ Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East)
I understand that the Government are at present compiling a short list of applications for the European Union urban fund, and that they plan to exclude from the list any city with objective 2 status. As that would have considerable implications for my constituency, which has the highest unemployment in the east midlands, and for the city of Nottingham, which has failed in its bid for single regeneration budget money, could we have a debate next week or at least at some time before the short list of applications is finalised?
§ Mr. Newton
I shall bring those points to the attention of my right hon. Friends who are responsible for those matters.
§ Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
May I again ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the takeover bid involving Northern Electric, in respect of the possible insider dealing that goes on at the moment, and on the Swiss banking company that is now buying shares in Yorkshire Electricity? There seems to be something really funny going on. Let us have a debate and have the matter out in the open.
§ Mr. Newton
We have another set of suggestions on which I plainly cannot comment, but which I am sure will be studied by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)
Could there be a statement next week about the escape of a prisoner, James Moore, from Everthorpe prison? I understand that his escape was noticed only when his wife rang up to ask for him. He was otherwise engaged: he was certainly not tied up.
§ Mr. Newton
I am left in some difficulty in finding a suitable answer to that. I do not think that I can match the hon. Gentleman's question and shall have to fall back on the fact that, as he well knows, there are a number of inquiries going on into recent events in various prisons.
§ Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)
Is it possible to have a debate or at least a statement on the revelations following the Channel 4 "Dispatches" programme last night about sewage discharges into our environment and especially into our seas? It was revealed that in certain samples viral content was 2,000 times higher than the present safety level. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the issue is urgent, particularly for coastal areas that depend not just on fishing for shellfish but on tourism? There is obviously a failure by the privatised water companies to tackle that serious problem.
§ Mr. Newton
I did not see the programme, but I suspect that, as on other occasions and not particularly with regard to the hon. Gentleman, the last part of his question is a gross over-simplification. Those problems have certainly not arisen since privatisation. Some of the problems that sometimes cause difficulty in the House 487 arise from high expenditure in seeking to tackle such problems. The hon. Gentleman certainly need not doubt the Government's determination to tackle them.
§ Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)
Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on early-day motion 473, on the politics of gender?
[That this House agrees with the Archdeacon of York that 'Political correctness is verbal fascism and when it is applied to matters religious it is as much destructive of the values and ideas of the faith as it is of the sensitivities of the believer'; regrets that feminists have never understood that 'Man' comes directly from the Latin `manus', meaning hand, indicating that man is the only species that can manipulate or manufacture, and that Man means in effect an animal that can use its hands and has nothing whatsoever to do with the contemporary and contrived politics of gender.]
Such a debate would give the House an opportunity to examine Opposition proposals for a devolved Scottish Parliament that would contain 50 per cent. women. We could also examine how that could be arranged and whether it is intended that it should also apply to the proposed English regional assemblies. Could my right hon. Friend consider timing the debate to coincide with commemorating the 20th anniversary of the election of a woman as leader of a political party in this country, so as to recognise that only the Conservative party has had a woman leader? In view of last year's events in the Labour party, it seems that this is the only party in which it is possible for a woman to rise to the top.
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend welded together a number of interesting, ingenious and attractive suggestions for debate. Perhaps they might be linked with an earlier request for a debate arising from the article in The Spectator. Of course I shall bear that very much in mind.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Would it be possible for a statement to be made early next week on the way in which Ministers leave the Cabinet and, after a very short period, go into the private sector—often joining companies such as Rothschild, which was involved in a privatisation that was the responsibility of a Department of which the ex-Minister was head at the time?
Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that what has happened recently just reinforces the belief in the country about sleaze and how ex-Tory Ministers do very well when they leave Cabinet? A statement is absolutely necessary—indeed, many of us would like legislation to deal with that issue.
§ Mr. Newton
The hon. Gentleman makes the sort of point that I must simply accept has become familiar from him. He will not for a moment expect me to accept the thrust of what he said. The Government have set up a wide-ranging commission—Lord Nolan's committee—to which the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) gave evidence yesterday. I am content to leave that committee to examine those matters.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
The Leader of the House may recall that, in the recent debate on selection, I drew attention to the fact that the Government hold 321 of the 651 seats in the House, yet they command 10 of the 18 votes that we possess in the Council of Europe. Does the right hon. Gentleman continue to regard that as 488 fair? What steps will he take to ensure that not only the British delegation but our colleagues from other countries recognise that Britain acts in a responsible manner in apportioning seats on that deputation and others?
§ Mr. Newton
When the hon. Gentleman raised the matter before, I told him that I would bring it to the attention of those responsible for making the relevant appointments. I shall check up on the position and get in touch with him.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)
May I join my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) in urging my right hon. Friend to arrange a debate on education? The large amount of education legislation that we have taken through the House has always been vigorously opposed by the Opposition. I, for one, am glad to note that it is now part of Labour party policy. If we were to have a debate, perhaps Labour Members would go just that one step further and welcome grant-maintained schools.
§ Mr. Newton
I have already referred to that matter. I do not think I can add anything else, other than to say that with every point made, such a debate becomes an increasingly attractive prospect.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
There are currently two Bills before the House dealing with discrimination against disabled people. It is generally known that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill will apply to 6.5 million people—one in every 10. May we have a statement on how wide the application of the Government's Bill will be, as we were not told that during its Second Reading? Will it apply to one in 10, one in 100, one in 1,000 or one in a million—if that person happens to be lucky?
Is not the advertisement referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) misleading in its claim that the Government's Bill applies to education, when almost no local education authority could operate such a measure? We should be told of the numbers of people in education to whom the Bill will apply. My Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill would apply to everyone in education.
§ Mr. Newton
The Government's Bill was debated extensively on Tuesday. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman spoke extensively in that debate. I see no reason to doubt that the proposals in the Bill, which cover a wide range of services and facilities for disabled people, will benefit large numbers of people. I have no doubt that my right hon. and hon. Friends who are responsible for the Bill, and who are sitting on the Front Bench at the moment, will have heard and heeded the hon. Gentleman's request.
§ Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)
Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Foreign Secretary, to ask whether we could have an early statement on the serious situation that is arising in former Yugoslavia, as a result of the statement by the Croatian President Tudjman that he wishes the United Nations forces to leave Croatian territory by the end of March? Will not that cause a serious crisis, which, potentially, could lead to a conflagration between the Serbs and the Croats over Krajina? Is not that a serious problem? Will the 489 Government make it clear at the earliest opportunity that we are doing all we can to stop such a withdrawal of UN forces?
§ Mr. Newton
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have noted that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be here to answer questions on Wednesday next, and that may give him an opportunity to raise those points.
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)
Given the point of order that I raised on Tuesday after Prime Minister's questions, the subsequent letter to the Prime Minister seeking clarification of his remarks, and his comment this afternoon that he wants the highest standards in public life, will a statement be made to correct the misrepresentations about my children that were made in the House by the Prime Minister during Prime Minister's questions last Tuesday?
§ Mr. Newton
That is not a matter on which I can add anything, but, of course, I take note that the hon. Gentleman has raised it again.