HC Deb 13 July 1995 vol 263 cc1103-11 4.15 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

Will the Leader of the House state 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 17 JULY—Proceedings on the Appropriation Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Licensing (Sunday Hours) Bill.

Consideration of any Lords amendments that may be received to the Child Support Bill.

Consideration of any Lords amendments to the Criminal Appeal Bill.

Motion on the Local Government Elections (Changes to the Franchise and Qualification of Members) Regulations.

Motions relating to the Housing Benefit (General) Amendment regulations and the Social Security (Income Support and Claims and Payments) Amendment Regulations.

Motion on Parliamentary Pensions.

TUESDAY 18 JULY—Motion on the Special Grant Report (No. 15) (Metropolitan Railway Grant 1995–96).

Motions on the Fishing Vessels (Safety Improvements) (Grants) Scheme and the Fishing Vessel (Decommissioning) Scheme.

Motion on the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet at 10.30 am on Tuesday 18 July.

[Tuesday 18 July:

European Standing Committee A— Relevant European Community document: 7514/95, Financial Assistance for the Environment. Relevant European Legislation Report: HC 70-xxi (1994–95).

European Standing Committee B— Relevant Community Document: 4966/95, Relations with Mexico. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 60-xi (1994–95)]

WEDNESDAY 19 JULY—Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House, the first of which will be the three-hour debate on matters to be considered before the forthcoming Adjournment.

Until about 7 o'clock, debate on the First Report of the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Debate on sport on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House may be asked to consider any Lords messages that may be received.

As the House may by now have realised, it is proposed that, subject to the progress of business, I intend that the House should rise for the summer Adjournment on Wednesday 19 July. The House may also like to know that I propose that the House should resume on Monday 16 October.

The provisional businesses for the first week back after the summer Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 16 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on a Government motion to approve the Defence Estimates 1995 (CM 2800).

TUESDAY 17 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on a Government motion to approve the Defence Estimates 1995 (CM 2800).

WEDNESDAY 18 OCTOBER—Opposition Day (18th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

European Standing Committee B will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 18 October.

[Wednesday 18 October:

European Standing Committee B— Relevant European Community document: COM (95) 73, Relations with Japan. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 70-xiv.]

THURSDAY 19 OCTOBER—Opposition Day (2nd Allotted Day—2nd Part). Until about 7 o'clock there will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced. Followed by a debate on motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 20 OCTOBER—Debate on a science and technology policy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Select Committee on Procedure is to report on several issues next week. Will he ensure that there is a debate in Government time on one aspect of its report, the Jopling changes, which have been introduced on an experimental basis this year? When we have such a debate, is it the right hon. Gentleman's intention to provide an opportunity for the House to reach a decision about continuing the new procedures with which we have been experimenting this year?

Secondly, is any change to be made in the scope of Question Time to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? Is it true that the Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State will be answering questions to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? If such changes are to go ahead, as we have heard indirectly, will the time allowed for such questions be lengthened in any way from the 20 minutes on a Monday, as I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister will not be able to say all that he wishes in just 20 minutes?

Thirdly, as the Prime Minister and others have refused to take action on the abuses of executive pay and share options and have refused to comment on what action might be needed until the Greenbury report is published, and as we hear almost daily of ever higher salaries and ever bigger profits from share options, will the Leader of the House ensure that, when the Greenbury report is published, any statement by the Prime Minister or other Ministers is made to the House, so that Ministers can be directly questioned about the need for real action to curb those excesses, which are so offensive to our constituents?

Finally, should we not have a statement before the recess or even a debate in Government time on the implications for the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty of the French nuclear testing in the Pacific—activities which the Opposition consider to be completely unwarranted and which could jeopardise progress on the test ban treaty?

Mr. Newton

It will not surprise the hon. Lady to know that on the last point I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on Tuesday.

With regard to executive pay, the hon. Lady will know that there is widespread expectation that the Greenbury committee will produce its report in the relatively near future, and I shall of course bear in mind the points that she has made.

With regard to how Question Time will be arranged, no definite decisions have yet been taken and I would envisage further discussion within the usual channels before any such decisions are taken.

Lastly, the hon. Lady is right to anticipate a report from the Procedure Committee on the Jopling reforms and their working in the first year. Again, I would not want to take decisions on that—the hon. Lady might be quite cross with me if I did—before even seeing the report, let alone having chance to discuss it with her. The hon. Lady well knows, however, that I am sympathetic to maintaining the reformed procedures, which have worked well.

Mr. Warren Hawksley (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Will the Leader of the House try to arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement next week on the future of Birmingham airport? The need is urgent because the Labour councillors, who have refused to date even to consider offers from West Midland Travel, the Richardson Brothers or other companies in the west midlands, are likely in the next fortnight to enter into a cosy arrangement with an American company to buy a 51 per cent. holding in that airport at less than the best price which could be obtained in the marketplace. It is important that we either debate the matter on the Floor of the House or have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Newton

For reasons that my hon. Friend will understand, it would be rash for me to make a promise from the Dispatch Box this afternoon of either a statement or a debate, but I have already mentioned the three-hour pre-recess debate on Wednesday morning. If my hon. Friend cares to raise the matter with me, I will try to ensure that I have some useful information to communicate to him.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I, too, thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

Following the Government's defeat yesterday in the Statutory Instruments Committee on the draft broadcasting orders, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when he expects those orders to be debated on the Floor of the House?

Will the Leader of the House also give an assurance that, if a major change in the disposition of British troops in Bosnia is likely, the House will be recalled during the summer recess?

Finally, is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the growing concern which has followed the announcement by the Secretary of State for Employment and Education about nursery vouchers, and the considerable confusion which now exists about the value that those vouchers will have for redemption purposes? Is it possible for the Secretary of State to write to hon. Members during the recess and for a debate to take place during the spillover period?

Mr. Newton

I do not anticipate a debate about the broadcasting orders on the Floor of the House, but I will certainly give the hon. Gentleman such information as I can when I have had a chance to make further inquiries. As for Bosnia, I have made it clear to hon. Members on both sides of the House for a long time that, if events develop in a way which seems to call for a statement, a statement will be made. It can fairly be said that such statements have been made at appropriate times, including one yesterday.

I have the impression that the plans for nursery vouchers have been widely welcomed, but there is more detailed work to be done. That is the purpose of the current consultation.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

May I endorse the call by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) for a debate on procedure? Such a debate would enable Conservative Members to explain to the Liberals the rights that they enjoy under the rules of the House to protect the interests of their constituents. Twice this week, Liberal party spokesmen have failed to understand what they can do for their constituents. On one occasion they thought that they could not speak during a debate that they had initiated; on another, they wrongly thought that their speaking time had been limited to 10 minutes. Such debate would provide a valuable opportunity to teach Liberals how to protect their constituents.

Mr. Newton

Given what I have heard, that is rather a good point. I must say that the usual channels on the Government side thought it rather strange that they should, in the end, have to assist the Liberals to keep their own debate going.

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

Why is next week's debate on Nolan to last for a maximum of three and a half hours? Will not Government statements, speeches by Privy Councillors, amendments moved by individual Members and Front-Bench speeches completely wipe out any Back-Bench contributions? That is not Parliament speaking: it is a rigged debate. Why can we not have more time to deal with the matter?

Mr. Newton

I can only say that the arrangements that I have in mind have been the subject of discussion through the usual channels, and that I believe that they are for the convenience of the House. That is not to say that everyone will necessarily support them, but almost nothing in this place is supported by everyone.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange time for a debate on Hackney borough council in the near future, so that the Opposition Front Bench can dissociate itself from that council's actions and from the deplorable attacks on one of its officers and on civil servants that were made in the House yesterday?

Mr. Newton

As it happens, I have been given an account of some of the things that have happened in Hackney, which certainly do not make very happy reading. They include the suspension of the council's director of housing after he had complained that some of his staff were illegal immigrants involved in fraud. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will bear my hon. Friend's comments in mind.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 383?

[That this House welcomes the introduction of the Energy Saving Materials (Limitation of VAT) Bill by a cross-party group of honourable Members on 11th January; notes that the Bill will reduce the level of VAT payable on energy saving materials to 8 per cent. and that this is the same amount of VAT payable on fuel bills; agrees with the view of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Right honourable Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, that a higher level of VAT on energy saving than that existing on energy use 'makes a nonsense of any attempt to use the tax system to improve the environment'; and hopes that the House will find the time to enable the Bill to become law.]

The motion relates to a Bill that I submitted, which proposed a reduction in VAT on energy-saving materials. Will the Leader of the House note that it now has the support of more than half the House? Will he accordingly arrange a debate next week, in Government time, so that we can debate the matter and my Bill can become law, and can receive the support of the House as well as that of the country as a whole?

Mr. Newton

I think that the answer to that is that it was a nice try. I see that the hon. Gentleman considers that fair comment. As he knows, his private Member's Bill is due to have its Second Reading on Friday and its fate is a matter for the House to decide.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

May I join my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) in asking for a debate on Hackney council, which is rapidly becoming known as the Monklands of the south? Apart from acting as a haven for illegal immigrants who are employed there, it has a deplorable record, with a large number of empty council houses and large rent arrears.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will have heard me say that, on the accounts that I have, the story does not look like a happy one. He may wish to raise it further with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment at Question Time next Wednesday.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

May I, too, ask the Leader of the House whether it is possible to have a longer debate on the Nolan proposals next week? As a Back Bencher and a relatively new Member of the House, I stand little chance of getting into a debate of the length proposed. In the last Nolan debate, only two new Back Benchers got into the entire debate—I was one of them—although the proposals affect new Members perhaps more than some of the Privy Councillors, who may be leaving us and retiring at the next election. These matters are important for the reputation of Parliament and we need time for a proper debate about them, not a quick run around the houses in two and a half hours. Will the right hon. Gentleman please reconsider, especially as this Session is ending so early in July and there would definitely be extra days, when we could take time to debate those serious and important issues?

Mr. Newton

I cannot add to what I said earlier, although obviously I take note of the hon. Lady's representations, in line with those from the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on Islington council, which has been described in a leader in The Times as a "rotten borough"? Is he aware of the strength of the White report into Islington social services, investigating dreadful stories of child abuse, prostitution, drug taking and paedophilia? Does he agree that it is right that the Labour party should come to the House and explain how it came to give that rotten borough so much support?

Mr. Newton

There are an awful lot of questions that I should quite like Labour Members to come forward with answers on, but that has continued to be a triumph of hope over experience and I dare say that it will remain so in relation to Islington.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)

May we have an urgent statement from the Attorney-General on the serious allegations made to the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service by senior Queen's Counsel that during the Roger Levitt case the Serious Fraud Office and its counsel provided information to the Attorney-General which caused him to mislead the House on relevant and material matters? In relation to that matter, should we not have an urgent statement and a judicial inquiry into the circumstances?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to accept what he says, but I will of course draw it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

May we have a debate on the different standards applying to Members of Parliament and to the people who provide the goods and services here in the restaurants and other such places, and on the contrast between the 88 days' holiday that Members of Parliament will be getting and the vile treatment handed out this week to some of the waiters and others who work in the Tea Rooms and elsewhere, who have been told that they must sign a fresh contract involving lower wages and worse conditions, and that if they do not sign it they will get the sack? One of the proposals by the Select Committee on Catering is to get rid of those workers' staff room and to provide a wine bar. Will the Leader of the House withdraw those proposals and ensure that proper negotiations continue?

Mr. Newton

There are two or three points there. First, the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was dying to answer the point about holidays. I think that I will leave Bolsover to Workington for that purpose. On the other points, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will be well aware that those matters are for the Catering Committee, but I draw his attention to the fact that large-scale proposals exist for improving the catering facilities, not least in the interests of the staff. [Interruption.] I do not think that I will bother to go on as the hon. Members for Workington and for Bolsover are having their own wrangle on the other side of the House.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When can we have a full debate on a subject raised this afternoon in a telephone call to my office—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. If there is to be an argument between the hon. Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), perhaps they would have it outside. We all know what they are arguing about and most of us disagree with Mr. Skinner on the point in question.

Mr. Flynn

When can we have a full debate on the subject raised with my office by an elderly man two hours ago? He said that he gave his sick wife, who is suffering from multiple sclerosis, a new medicine which led to her having her best night's sleep for 30 years. In the eyes of the Government, that man and his wife are criminals who could be fined £2,500 and thrown into prison. He could have given her heroin or cocaine, which are legal, but instead he gave her a drug which has never killed anyone, which has been used for 5,000 years, is less poisonous than aspirin and is known to provide relief for serious pain. Why do the Government not accede to the request made by doctors, patients, relatives of patients and many others that they should allow cannabis to be used, not for general medical use but for serious cases—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is making the case that he should make in an Adjournment debate rather than simply asking for such a debate. Let us hear from the Leader of the House whether there will be such a debate next week.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise a debate. The hon. Gentleman, who is well informed about these matters, will know that there are proper advisory arrangements for Government decisions about such matters. I am sure that his comments will be considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health who, as it happens, is due to answer questions on Tuesday.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

In view of the Government's defeat yesterday on the statutory instrument on broadcasting, may we have an early debate to discuss the Government's ability to carry through their own legislation so that we can discuss why the Government were putting forward secondary legislation which could not command the support of their own Back Benchers?

Mr. Newton

That was another nice try. When I was a Back Bencher I engaged in one or two exercises of the kind which appeared to occur yesterday. The hon. Lady will know that she is making too much out of that.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the fact that the Leader of the House has once again given us advance notice of the October resumption. Is it possible to find out from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether, in those early weeks in October, he will be introducing the new parliamentary boundaries for Northern Ireland? If not, why is there such a delay?

Mr. Newton

I am not in a position to provide an immediate answer to that and I shall not pretend that I am. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is aware of the hon. Gentleman's points.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

I draw the Leader of the House's attention to early-day motion 748 relating to unpaid Kuwaiti debts in London.

[That this House is gravely concerned at the plight of London businessman Mr. F. Salus, virtually bankrupted by the refusal to pay debts of £75,400 owed to him by two princesses of the Kuwaiti Royal Family, Princesses Nadia and Fatemah Al-Sabah, daughters of Sheikh Jaber Al Alim Al-Sabah, who engaged Mr. Salus to help build luxury flats in South Kensington at Manson Place, SW7, yet have persistently refused to pay Mr. Salus on the ridiculous grounds that they lost money on this investment which is their problem not their contractors, despite the entreaties of such British personalities as the Noble Lord Bethel, Sir Dennis Walters MBE, the honourable Member for Corby, Robert Evans MEP, the honourable Member for Brent East and many others; and considers that, especially in view of the great debt the Kuwaiti Royal Family owes to this country, the Emir of Kuwait should instruct his errant relatives, who are both multi-millionairesses, to make good their obligations to a British businessman whom they have all but ruined.]

The motion deals with the bankrupting of a London business man by two princesses of the Kuwaiti royal family. That royal family was returned to its throne at the point of British weapons just a few years ago. The early-day motion has been signed by 61 hon. Members from both sides of the House and includes in the first six names several knights of the realm, so great is the feeling that this act of meanness and hard-faced hypocrisy on the part of the Kuwaiti royal family should be acted upon by the British Government.

May we have a discussion about our relations with the emirate of Kuwait so that that British business man, who carried out works in good faith for members of the Kuwaiti royal family, can receive the relatively small amount of money for which he was bankrupted and so that relations can be normal between this country and the emirate? I fear that this issue will be a running sore in those relations if we cannot have such a debate and clear the matter up.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that that is a matter of commercial debt and not something in which the Government could or should intervene. There are methods available to pursue such matters, if appropriate, in the civil courts.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the decision by two universities for large salary and severance payments to be awarded to two vice-chancellors? One vice-chancellor was awarded £411,000 because he agreed not to make any comment for four years about the reasons for his dismissal. Should public money be used to buy the silence of a public servants in that way?

Mr. Newton

I will bring that question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)

Does the Leader of the House accept that, although the Government may wish to avoid parliamentary scrutiny for three months, the public outside do not understand why Parliament is shutting down for three months? It leads to the sort of misunderstandings that we have just seen. Does the Leader of the House accept that it does the image of Members of Parliament no good with the public, and will he reconsider that policy for the future?

Mr. Newton

We are experiencing the usual cross-fire at this time of the year. Most of the House recognises that it is proper for the House to have a break, not least so that Members of Parliament can attend to matters in their constituencies, which they cannot do when the House is sitting four or five days a week. That is widely understood by our constituents and others, but frankly it is not helped when people like the hon. Gentleman seek to mislead them about the true position.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

May we have a ministerial statement next week on today's award of all the contracts for running the Scottish national health service computer centres to a private firm—CSC— especially as I understand that there was under-specification in the contracts to create the illusion of savings in the NHS, as well as a hidden subsidy to the private company through the undervaluing the assets of the computer centres?

Mr. Newton

I will, of course, bring that question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am bound to say, however, that it is my experience that considerable advantages have been secured by using the private sector to undertake computer operations, very much including the social security system.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

Press reports suggest that the Deputy Prime Minister has expressed the wish that the House should have the opportunity for a debate rather than just a statement on the report on Barings being prepared by the Bank of England. I do not know whether the Deputy Prime Minister has taken over the job of the Leader of the House as well, but can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether we are to have such a debate?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is high time that we had a debate in Government time on the whole question of supervision and regulation so that we can discuss not only the problems at Lloyd's but those relating to the failure of self-regulation generally? That debate should be held in Government time—rather than in Opposition time, as has happened until now.

Mr. Newton

The right time to start thinking about such a debate is when we have the report of the Board of Banking Supervision.