HC Deb 08 June 1995 vol 261 cc321-30 3.31 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

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

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton): The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 12 JuNE—Motion on the Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order.

Remaining stages of the Medical (Professional Performance) Bill.

TUESDAY 13 JUNE—Opposition Day (13th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled "Insecurity in the Housing Market" on an Opposition motion.

WEDNESDAY 14 JUNE—Until 2.30 pm there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Parliamentary Constituencies (England) Order.

THURSDAY 15 JUNE—Until 7 o'clock, motion on the Council Tax Limitation (England) (Maximum Amounts) Order.

FRIDAY 16 JUNE—The House will not be sitting.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents.

In the following week, I propose to provide for a further Opposition day on Monday 19 June. On Tuesday 20 June, I expect to take the Second Reading of the Mental Health (Patients in the Community) Bill [Lords], followed by remaining stages of the Town and Country Planning (Costs of Inquiries etc.) Bill. I anticipate taking Government business on Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 June. Friday 23 June is a non-sitting day.

[Tuesday 13 June:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community documents: unnumbered, Fisheries: Integration of Spain and Portugal into the Common Fisheries Policy; Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports HC 70-xvii (1994–95).

Wednesday 14 June:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: unnumbered, Broad Economic Guidelines; Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports HC 70-xviii (1994–95).]

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the Leader of the House for that information and in particular for the fact that he has been able to give us more information with regard to the second week than on some occasions.

With reference to the new Select Committee that was established this week to implement the Nolan committee recommendations, will the Leader of the House confirm that he will do all in his power to ensure that that Committee gets under way as quickly as possible and is able to meet as frequently as is necessary to meet the Nolan timetable?

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that I have been pressing him for information about when we can expect economic debates in Government time, not least so that we may discuss what the Financial Times calls the "economic slow-down". Can he give us any further information today about the progress that he is making in terms of fitting in those debates, which the House will be anxious to have?

In view of the widespread public concern about the huge private profits from the running of the national lottery, will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the matter, not least so that we can also discuss the impact of the lottery on charities, particularly medical charities?

Will the Leader of the House also respond to the need to debate another issue of significant public concern, which was highlighted in the report on the private security industry by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, as there are now more private security employees than serving police officers and as not one witness before the Select Committee was opposed to statutory regulation of the industry? Surely we now need from the Government not a White Paper, but early action.

If the Government do not intend to take early action, will the Leader of the House at least arrange a debate so that Parliament can prove that it is willing to tackle the problems created by the elements of the industry that appear to act as institutionalised protection racketeers? Will the Government give an assurance that they will stop obstructing or delaying the measures that the Select Committee recommended and which, clearly, the majority of hon. Members want to see put into place?

Mr. Newton

On the last point, the Government have, as the hon. Lady knows, welcomed the helpful recommendations in the report by the Home Affairs Select Committee. Clearly, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will seek to respond as soon as possible. I am not, however, in a position to say this afternoon exactly when and in what form that response will come.

I have two points to make about the lottery, while bearing the hon. Lady's request, as ever, much in mind. First, Camelot's bid to operate the lottery entailed a lower share of turnover for operating costs and profit than that of any other applicant for the licence. Secondly, part of the background to what the hon. Lady has said is that Camelot has made an astonishing success of the lottery, to the benefit of all the many good causes that will gain from it.

Proceeding in reverse order with the hon. Lady's questions, I now refer to her request for economic debates before the summer recess. I am afraid to say that I am still not in a position to give definite dates, but I continue to be aware of and intend to fulfil the Government's undertakings on the matter. I shall give the hon. Lady further information as soon as I can.

I think that everything I have said and done already shows my wish that the Select Committee dealing with the Nolan recommendations should proceed with all appropriate speed when its membership has been appointed.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

A number of hon. Members are standing. It may not be possible to call them all unless they put brisk questions. I ask for one question only, please, from now on and I am sure that the Leader of the House will give a brisk reply.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Can my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on Short money—the money paid to the official Opposition? Why should taxpayers' money be used to flout equal opportunities legislation by means of women-only parliamentary candidate lists?

Mr. Newton

That is a very good question. I am tempted to invite the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) to reply. No doubt she will bear my hon. Friend's question in mind.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Leader of the House helpfully gave us as much information as possible about the week after next as well as next week; that is a helpful development. Does he appreciate that with the publication of the Donaldson report, "Safer Ships: Cleaner Seas", and the Government's response to it, there was considerable interest and concern on both sides of the House about marine safety? Will he now implement the promise of the former Secretary of State for Transport, when he brought the Donaldson report to the House, that we could debate the issue?

Mr. Newton

I shall certainly bear that request in mind, especially as I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the first part of his remarks. I regard it as my business always to be helpful.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will my right hon. Friend look shortly to arranging a debate so that we can discuss the parliamentary year? Is he aware that it is absurd that, within the space of three weeks in November, we have 10 days' open debate, but that we then do not get a chance for Government-sponsored debates on many items of good news throughout the rest of the year? Rather than conceding always to Opposition Supply days, will he consider giving us some Government Supply days as well?

Mr. Newton

That is another very good suggestion, which I shall bear in mind. My hon. Friend may be aware that I was giving evidence to the Procedure Committee on some related matters yesterday.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

Can the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on Britain's relationship with and future in the International Labour Organisation? He will be aware that this week there has been open warfare between the Foreign Office seeking to safeguard our integrity as an ILO member and the Employment Secretary and his Gayfere street epigone, who are acting to try to pull us out of the ILO. That is causing a great deal of cross-party concern, as is shown by early-day motion 1199.

[That this House, having regard to the role the United Kingdom played in founding the International Labour Organisation in 1919 and considering the ILO's long history of resisting totalitarian and authoritarian governments by advancing on a tri-partite and evolving basis measures to promote employment and social justice, welcomes the continuing contribution that British ministers, employers and trade unions make to the ILO's work; and would consider any threat to continuing British participation at the ILO to be in breach of the United Kingdom's treaty obligations and to the need for continuing dialogue at the global level on the issues currently on the ILO agenda.]

Many hon. Members would like a debate to affirm Britain's continuing commitment to membership of the ILO, which we helped to found.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has been misled. My right hon. Friends are in entire agreement that it is right that our membership of the ILO should be carefully evaluated, but no decision has been taken to withdraw.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Will the Leader of the House allow us an urgent early debate on the means by which we can bring to account the leadership of the London borough of Islington for the appalling events that have taken place in that Labour-controlled authority's social services department recently?

Mr. Newton

I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall give careful consideration to the possibility of such a debate, during which that and other comparable matters could be raised.

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)

In view of the fact that the Prime Minister was unable to tell the House of the additional cost caused to people by having to take out insurance for their mortgages, the reports in today's press of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux expressing concern and the statement by the chief executive of the Nationwide building society, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the insurance that individuals will have to take out to protect their mortgages?

Mr. Newton

I would observe that there is a debate on housing on an Opposition day next Tuesday, but I would also express surprise at the hon. Lady's nerve. On my hearing of the exchanges at Prime Minister's Question Time, by the time that it had finished, it was 40-love to my right hon. Friend and if a fourth question had been asked, it would have been game, set and match.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

May I ask my right hon. Friend for a debate on local government in London? Is he aware that, apart from the scandals of Islington, we are told that there is corruption and racism in Hackney and that in Lambeth there is £70 million of uncollected rates, council tax and community charge at a time when that council says that it cannot afford decent services?

Mr. Newton

My answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) applies also to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall).

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time next week on the total chaos of railway privatisation, which, in spite of the violent efforts of the present Government, will obviously be absolutely unworkable?

Mr. Newton

Were I to believe that the hon. Lady's suggestions were founded, I might well consider a debate, but I do not, so I shall not.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the state of the performing arts in Britain? Does he agree that such a debate would enable us to raise our continuing concerns about the discretionary grant regime for students of dance and drama and to pay tribute to one British genius, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose musicals bring pleasures to millions and massive revenues to the United Kingdom and who only this week won seven Tony awards in the United States for "Sunset Boulevard"?

Mr. Newton

I am happy to join in paying tribute to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and will bear in mind that request for a debate.

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

Can we be assured that the Select Committee that is considering the Nolan recommendations will seriously consider meeting and deliberating in public, in the same way as a Standing Committee of the House on legislation or regulatory matters does? It has always been the precedent in respect of privileges and Members' interests that it was necessary to meet in private only when the affairs of individual Members were being discussed, with a view to protecting that Member prior to the Committee finding. Can we have an assurance that that has not been ruled out, because my view is that the wider British public would like to hear the discussions that take place in the Committee?

Mr. Newton

As you will know, Madam Speaker, even if the hon. Gentleman does not, Select Committees have been given no power by the House to deliberate in public. The hon. Gentleman might like to bear in mind the fact that, although the Nolan committee took evidence in public, it certainly did not deliberate in public. Had it done so, I doubt that we would ever have seen a report at all.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May I ask my right hon. Friend for a debate next week on the costs of doctors in parallel practices—it seems that doctor A can spend three times as much as doctor B on a similar number of patients but with less effect—with a view to establishing the effectiveness of fundholding in extending services to patients at a sound cost?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend's question reveals one of the advantages of the new arrangements, in that they enable such questions to be raised. However, I cannot promise an immediate debate.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that the new Committee on Nolan's recommendations produces a report to be debated before the summer recess? Will he use his best offices to ensure that the report deals with the merits and demerits of proceeding by way of legislation rather than resolution of the House? Finally, will he use his very best offices to ensure that that Committee, unlike many of its predecessors, is not stuffed full of Conservatives with vested interests up to their eyeballs?

Mr. Newton

As the membership of the Committee has not yet been established, although its terms of reference have been agreed by the House, it would clearly be wrong and absurd for me to attempt to say this afternoon what the Committee will or will not do at any particular point in time.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must have a debate on social services in Islington? I stress the issue because I wonder whether he has read the appalling report about the children in Islington's care who have been subjected to gross sexual abuse. The leader of the council at the time and who was responsible is now the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). Does my right hon. Friend agree that she should apologise to the House and explain what went wrong?

Mr. Newton

As my hon. Friend will have heard, I have already said twice that I am sympathetic to the possibility of a debate in which such matters might be raised.

Mrs. Helen Liddell (Monklands, East)

I should be grateful if the Leader of the House gave early consideration to a debate on today's announcement about the massive pay increase for the Director General of Gas Supply, Clare Spottiswoode. A number of hon. Members have already been approached by constituents who feel that it is a public affront. Could we have an early opportunity to articulate those matters in the House?

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Lady's request, but point out that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is due to be answering questions next Wednesday.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on what is going on in the Select Committee on Members' Interests, because it seems that some Opposition Members are failing to attend and do their duty, failing to consider the complaints made against the Leader of the Opposition and the deputy Leader of the Opposition and are acting on behalf of a newspaper in pursuing a libel action? A newspaper libelled an hon. Member, but Opposition Members seem to be supporting the newspaper in what should be a matter for the courts in due course. Does not my right hon. Friend consider that the statements by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) in the press today are incorrect and should be condemned?

Mr. Newton

Any attempt to prevent Select Committees from undertaking proper inquiries that they have been asked to undertake or to go outside the proceedings of those Committees is something that I am sure the House wishes not to happen. Beyond that, I do not think that I am in a position to comment on what my hon. Friend said.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

Will the Leader of the House give us time to debate those matters next week? The Committee is in a state of deadlock. The Labour members of that Committee have tried hard for five months to get it to look after its procedures, take account of precedent and do its duty, but have been stymied at every turn by the presence of a Government Whip, which has made it impossible for us to do our duty. In the end, we felt that we had to come out because we could not be party to a Conservative stitch-up on one of the most important issues facing the House this Session.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady has in fact confirmed what my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) said, which was that she is blocking the work of a properly constituted Committee of the House.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

My right hon. Friend will probably share my concern at the fact that more and more decisions affecting the lives of our fellow countrymen are made under treaty and royal prerogative. We should not be careless in considering those matters. Will he therefore undertake to give the House an opportunity to debate the progress made by the reflections group as it progresses towards the intergovernmental conference next year? It is important that we are given an opportunity to monitor that progress and to debate matters as they arise. We should do our level best to remove from people the frustration that they undoubtedly feel as a result of so many decisions being made by treaty rather than as a result of a vote in the House.

Mr. Newton

I would certainly anticipate that the House and Parliament will have a number of opportunities for relevant discussions on the matter. Meanwhile, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis), gave evidence to the Select Committee on European Legislation this morning on one of the meetings earlier this week.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

At long last, the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill has come out of Committee, despite considerable attempts by the Government—on a duly constituted Committee of the House—to stop the progress of the Bill. Will the Leader of the House provide an opportunity for Report and the remaining stages of the Bill—which is supported widely in the country, progressed to Committee following a 175 to nil vote in the House and has supporters from all political parties—to be considered, so that the Bill can progress to another place?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has—not unreasonably—asked me almost exactly the same question on innumerable occasions. I am not in a position to add to what I said earlier.

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the amusement industry, which employs hundreds of people in my constituency and thousands throughout the country? Does he agree that such a debate would provide an opportunity for Labour Members to explain their curious policies towards the industry? Those policies were recently brought to my attention in a copy of a letter sent to the British Amusement Catering Trades Association—the trade association of the coin-operated amusement machine industry—by a senior Labour Member, former Cabinet Minister and adviser to the present Labour leader. The letter says: I myself regard amusement arcades as wholly undesirable and nothing would give me more pleasure than for them to be taxed out of existence. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an extraordinary statement, and should not the House be told whether it properly reflects Labour policy?

Mr. Newton

I can imagine that the statement would not be greeted with enthusiasm in the town that my hon. Friend represents. While I cannot promise a debate on the matter, it seems like a splendid subject for a Wednesday morning.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

May we have a statement next week on the Government's attitude to the Scott inquiry, in view of the fact that not only has the inquiry itself been criticised by the Government and their supporters—if not too publicly—but the distinguished judge himself? The Government and their supporters are concerned about scandals for which the House has no responsibility. Why do not the Government concentrate on scandals for which they are responsible, such as selling arms to Iraq prior to the Gulf war? Why are they attacking the Scott inquiry and the judge?

Mr. Newton

The matter was raised with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Tuesday. I thought that his answers were entirely straightforward and clear-cut, and I do not intend to add to them.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

May I support the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) for a debate on the Select Committee on Members' Interests? What redress is available to members of that Committee when a newspaper—aided and abetted by a member of the Committee—makes a series of misrepresentations about the Committee, including that one member of the Committee was appointed to intervene in an inquiry, when in fact the member had been appointed long before the complaint was made and the inquiry begun?

The newspaper also stated that the Committee was not investigating one of the two allegations that was before it when it is doing so. Has not the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) attempted to discredit the Select Committee in conjunction with a newspaper that is itself a party to a libel action? Furthermore, given that, throughout its deliberations, the Committee's detailed proceedings have appeared in that newspaper bearing the interpretation that the hon. Member for Wallasey put on them, it is important that the House knows what the relationship is in that case. May we have a debate on it?

Mr. Newton

As my hon. Friend will have heard, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) has already confirmed that she, as it were, seeks to frustrate the work of the Committee. Perhaps she would care to confirm the rest of my hon. Friend's interpretation.

Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South)

The Leader of the House will be aware of the case of my constituent, Private Lee Clegg; his case was reviewed by the Northern Ireland Life Sentence Review Board on Monday. Will he ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make a statement to the House on the recommendations of the Life Sentence Review Board to prevent any more anguish to Private Lee Clegg or his family, and to meet the great interest that the British public have shown in that case?

Mr. Newton

I shall certainly bring that request to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Looking at the next fortnight's business, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he has left enough flexibility in the programme to allow for occasional statements, as they may be required, by Her Majesty's Government on the evolving situation in Bosnia? During the Falklands war, for example, either the Defence Secretary or the Foreign Secretary regularly came to the House to reassure hon. Members and, through them, the public at large. It will be necessary to inform hon. Members and to clarify the Government's policy, especially given that British lives are involved.

Mr. Newton

I cannot say that I have planned the business with a view to allowing for such statements, but the record will show that I have made provision for them whenever it has seemed to those of us at the Dispatch Box that they were required. I note my hon. Friend's concern.

Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

In view of the record 44 per cent. increase in Northumbrian Water's profits, which was announced today, and the fact that it is the fifth water company to announce record increases in its profits one year after the price review that was supposed to keep prices for customers down, will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate on the total failure to offer customers value for money of last year's price review of the water and sewerage industry?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady might like to note that, over the next five years, the industry will share £90 million of the benefits of efficiency savings with its customers, which means £32.50 for each of its nearly 3 million customers.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on Britain's membership of the International Labour Organisation? Although that organisation has a budget of £177 million, of which Britain contributes £8 million, its only achievement seems to be that it is an international quango that allows trade unionists to go on freebies at the taxpayer's expense and is supported by the Labour party. Is it not high time that we withdrew from that organisation and the House had a chance to debate it?

Mr. Newton

I have already told the House that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Employment Secretary agree that our membership of the ILO should be carefully evaluated. They will no doubt take account of points such as those raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

Following the public humiliation that the Government's rail privatisation suffered in the Court of Appeal in Scotland this week when they sought to circumvent section 27 of the Railways Act 1993, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the chaos that has ensued from the Government's proposals with regard to the Fort William sleeper and other rail privatisation proposals?

Mr. Newton

The subject of that court action was not a privatised body but British Rail.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate not on the Select Committee on Members' Interests but on whether we should establish another Committee of Privileges to look into the activities of some members of the Members' Interests Committee? Is it not a breach of privilege to divulge papers—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is alleging breach of privilege, which is a most serious accusation. As he knows, he must write to me if he wishes to allege any breach of privilege whatever by any Member of this House. He should now think about it carefully and rephrase his question or write to me.

Mr. Jenkin

May I ask my right hon. Friend to provide time for a debate, to discover whether we can establish a Committee to investigate those matters?

Mr. Newton

As you will know, Madam Speaker, you have already referred a number of matters to the Committee of Privileges, of which I have the privilege of being the Chairman. Were you to ask us to do something else, no doubt we would.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn)

There are fresh signs that the United Kingdom economy may follow the United States economy in slowing down. The Central Statistical Office forecasts show a fall for the 10th month in a row, which suggests that the economy may be faltering

Mr. David Shaw

We can read. Mr. Touhig: Fine; I will read. Hon. Members: Reading.

Madam Speaker

Order. Let me give a little guidance to the hon. Gentleman. The purpose of business questions is to ask the Leader of the House for a debate. One begins by saying that, then one has two lines on why one needs that debate.

Mr. Shaw

One line.

Madam Speaker

One line, or not more than two lines.

Mr. Touhig

I appreciate your guidance, Madam Speaker. Thank you very much. There are further signs that house building is decreasing again, compared with the previous quarter. Does the Leader of the House recognize—[Interruption.] I am coming to the end. Does the Leader of the House recognise that his answer to my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has understood. If a debate is sought next week, the Member begins by asking for a debate next week because of a particular situation, and thereafter paraphrases what the problem is and why the debate must take place. He is not in an argument with the Leader of the House. He is asking the Leader of the House for a debate.

Mr. Touhig

I appreciate your guidance, Madam Speaker. I shall certainly learn from your guiding hand. My point is that the Leader of the House should urgently arrange a debate on the economy so that the House—

Madam Speaker

Well done.

Mr. Touhig

I would have got there in the end, Madam Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman should arrange that so that the House may debate the appalling mess that the economy is in as a result of the Government's actions.

Mr. Newton

I think that the hon. Gentleman was trying to pick an argument with the Leader of the House, and he very nearly succeeded, except that I can draw attention to the fact that I have already provided, at the request of Her Majesty's Opposition, for a debate about housing next Tuesday.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

May we have a debate next week about the problems of paedophiles travelling overseas and committing offences against children in other countries? Will we be able to give time to the Bill that is currently in the House of Lords and consider the possibility of prosecuting people? My right hon. Friend will know that the all-party street children group is preparing reports on those matters, and that there is serious worry about such matters internationally.

Mr. Newton

I am of course aware of those reports, and I am sure that they will be carefully considered, as will what my hon. Friend has said, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.