HC Deb 18 May 1995 vol 260 cc471-80 3.30 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 22 May—Remaining stages of the Child Support Bill.

TUESDAY 23 MAY—Second reading of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Bill.

WEDNESDAY 24 May—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 replacement of the old recess Adjournment motion.

Opposition Day (13th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled "Social Division and Low Pay" on an Opposition motion.

Motion in the name of the honourable Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) relating to disclosure of specified Select Committee papers.

THURSDAY 25 May—Motion on the Coal Industry (Restructuring Grants) Order.

Motion on the Pneumoconiosis etc., (Workers' Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations.

FRIDAY 26 May—The House will not be sitting.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet on Tuesday 23 May and Wednesday 24 May at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows: [Tuesday 23 May:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community documents: 5489/95 Reform of the Community Document; Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports HC 70-xii (1994–95) and HC 70-xv (1994–95).

Wednesday 17 May:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: 8693/94 and 8943/94 Relations with Central and Eastern Europe; 5928/95 Industrial Co-operation with Central and Eastern Europe; Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports HC 70-iv (1994–95) and HC 70-xiv (1994–95).]

The House will return, following the Whitsun recess, on 6 June and I expect to give full details of business for that week when I make a statement this time next week. I anticipate a possible need to take Government business until 7 pm on Thursday 8 June. On Friday 9 June, which is a Government Friday, I anticipate a debate on a motion for the Adjournment.

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the Leader of the House for that information. I wish to press him on two points that I raised last week: future economic debates in Government time; and whether he has reconsidered the answer that he gave last week about the appropriateness of a debate to mark the 25th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. The answer that he gave last week was uncharacteristically unsympathetic and I wonder whether the Leader of the House has reconsidered the matter.

With what degree of seriousness should we treat the rather petulant remarks of the Minister for Health about scrapping the nurses' pay review board? Is that the Government's intention, or is it just another example of the yah-boo school of politics that we have come to expect? If there are proposals of that kind, will there be a statement in the House?

Finally, may I ask the Leader of the House about the confusion that the Government have created surrounding the Jobseekers Bill? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the points of order raised on the Floor this week, and of the fact that the jobseeker's allowance is to be delayed for six months, from April 1996 to October 1996. As the Government have said in written answers that benefit cuts will still be implemented in April 1996, considerable confusion that needs clearing up remains. We must press the Minister on why there has not been a statement in the House by the Secretary of State for Employment or the Secretary of State for Social Security. The Bill cannot go any further unless and until this matter is fully clarified.

Mr. Newton

I cannot at the moment give the hon. Lady further information about economic debates in Government time later this year, but I shall seek to do so as soon as possible.

If my remarks last week about the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act sounded unsympathetic, it was entirely unintentional. No one who listened to my speech at the opening of the exhibition to mark the anniversary on Monday would have thought that I was unsympathetic. Of course I shall continue to bear the hon. Lady's request in mind.

Had the hon. Lady read the letter from the Minister for Health—I suspect that she may not have done—she would have seen that it makes it clear that the Government value the independent review body, value the professional job nurses do, and want nurses to be fairly paid. He certainly did not say—nor would I—that we wanted the body to be disbanded.

I believe that the jobseeker's allowance was handled in exactly the right way. A statement was made in another place, because it was considering the Bill at the time and it was clearly right that their Lordships should have the information. The same information was conveyed to this House in a written answer, at roughly the same time and in an entirely proper way. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security and I did the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) the courtesy—having been made aware in advance—of attending to listen to his points of order. I am sure that any further clarification requested will be provided.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

I note that my right hon. Friend did not mention the implementation of the Boundary Commission proposals. When are we likely to get the relevant legislation?

Mr. Newton

I cannot give a precise date at the moment, but I am aware that there is concern in the House to see the matter resolved and clarified as soon as possible.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Now that the Northern Ireland initiative has proceeded to the stage of talks across all sectors of the community—I realise that there will be no debate next week—after the recess may we have an opportunity in Government time to debate the state of the process in Northern Ireland, to ensure that it goes ahead with the widest possible support in the House and to maximise the chances of a conclusion as soon as possible?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's tone, which makes me all the more inclined to give consideration, without commitment, to his request.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

May we have an early and urgent debate on the public conduct of Labour-dominated Kent county council, which earlier today used a procedural motion to stifle a Conservative debate on the need to fund in full the teachers' pay settlement from an underspend of £17 million? Will my right hon. Friend condemn this sort of practice by the Labour-Liberal Democrat-dominated council, conducted against free speech in Kent and elsewhere?

Mr. Newton

I very much take note of my hon. Friend's comments. Education questions next Tuesday may give him an opportunity to raise the matter with my right hon. Friend.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will the Leader of the House make a strong effort to get a Minister from the Foreign Office or the Department of Health to make a statement next week on exactly how much emergency aid is being sent from the United Kingdom directly to Zaire? We have all the products that could aid barrier nursing and protect not only doctors and nurses but volunteers, who are at direct risk. Those products could be on the next aeroplane if the Government would make the effort. Will the right hon. Gentleman make a clear statement that that is what the Government intend to do?

Mr. Newton

If I am right in interpreting the hon. Lady's question as a strong representation, I undertake to bring that representation to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Some sad decisions have been taken by the Royal College of Nursing this week in Harrogate. Would it be possible to have a debate on nursing and the national health service? It seems desperately sad that the independent pay review body structure, which has done so much for nursing, should be in jeopardy, despite what my right hon. Friend has said. It appears that the Government will gain little from local pay bargaining. If we are to have a national system for doctors and consultants, let it be recognised that nurses are just as professional and essential to the health service. Why does not the House have an opportunity to discuss the matter?

Mr. Newton

I should make it clear that I do not wholly share my hon. Friend's views in quite the way in which he put them. There has been a fair number of opportunities for the matter to be raised in the House, and I am certain that there will be more.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

The Leader of the House will be aware that in 1989 the Government appointed the then chief constable of Cambridge, John Stevens, to inquire into allegations of collusion between members of the security services and loyalist terrorist groupings. Will the right hon. Gentleman make time available to enable the Government to assure the House that the investigations undertaken by Chief Constable Stevens resulted in cases being brought to the Director of Public Prosecutions against four members of the security services, to give us an opportunity of being updated on the progress of those cases and to give the Government an opportunity to put before the House the findings of the latter stages of the Stevens inquiry, which have not yet been made public?

Mr. Newton

All that I can do now is to take note of the hon. Gentleman's request and to bring it, and the representations implicit in his question, to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that fairly soon the House will be debating the annual order relating to the assisted places scheme, the terms of which are somewhat limited? Will my right hon. Friend find time for a wider debate on the scheme, so that we can debate its value to hundreds of pupils in my constituency from lower-income families, and to thousands throughout the country? A wider debate would enable us also to examine the consequences of abolishing the scheme, as the Opposition would do if in government. Its abolition would deprive future generations of children of a similar opportunity, including the brothers and sisters of those who are already on the scheme, who would be deprived of the opportunity to go to the same schools.

Mr. Newton

The idea of providing time for the arguments so effectively advanced by my hon. Friend to be more fully deployed is attractive and I shall certainly bear it in mind.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

The Leader of the House will be aware that earlier this week the Western European Union Council of Ministers issued the Lisbon declaration. The proposals may be perfectly adequate, but the declaration may involve significant additional commitments from the United Kingdom. Would it not therefore be highly appropriate for the House to consider the recommendations at an early date?

Mr. Newton

As always, I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's request. I would not wish to encourage too high hopes.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

May I support the call for a debate on the funding of education in Kent? It is an urgent matter because due to the incompetence of management of the county council there is a surplus of £17 million as a result of underspend last year, and as little as £3.8 million of this would fully fund the schools this year. Thanks to the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition putting off such funding into the future, the schools now strapped for cash may have to make economies, including getting rid of some of the teachers who are educating our children. We are witnessing cynical political opportunism on the part of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties and we need an early debate about the matter in the House.

Mr. Newton

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), my hon. Friend makes an important point. Clearly, I cannot find time for a debate next week, or the week after, given that that is a recess, but there will be an opportunity in Education questions next week.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

Following the welcome statement of the Leader of the House last week that the Government are to consider banning the gel formulation of Temazepam, will the Leader of the House find time next week to make a statement on whether the Government will accept the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to reschedule Temazepam from schedule 4 to schedule 3?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's reference to the statement that I made when I launched the Government's White Paper on drugs, but I cannot add to what I then said about continuing consideration being given to the recommendations of the advisory council. I also said last week that I had it in mind to seek to provide time for a debate on drugs when a suitable opportunity arises.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

My right hon. Friend has announced Government business for Thursday 8 June. Will he allow the House to debate civil air transport on a substantive motion calling for Her Majesty's Government to insist that the negotiation of civil air transport agreements between countries remains a national responsibility, against the wishes of Transport Commissioner Kinnock and the European Union who want to arrogate to themselves a function which is properly ours and ours alone?

Mr. Newton

That was not quite the business that I had in mind for the first half of that Thursday, and a Government substantive motion may not be overwhelmingly popular on the second half of a Thursday. But the subject that my hon. Friend raises is undoubtedly important. I shall bear his request in mind and he need have no doubt of the firmness of the Government's own position.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

As we shall be debating the Nolan report on a motion for the Adjournment of the House today, will the Leader of the House provide time to debate resolutions that will begin to put the recommendations of that report into practice? As Nolan wishes us to have entirely new systems up and running by November, we will have little parliamentary time between now and the summer to get the business through the House.

Mr. Newton

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister's questions, the purpose of today's debate is to gauge feeling in the House in order to assist decisions about how best to proceed. Clearly, that implies further discussion following today's debate, but shaped in the light of today's debate.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

I rise more in sorrow than in anger. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Reflections Group of the European Union considering the forthcoming intergovernmental conference is meeting on 2 June and, notwithstanding my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's consideration of publication of our contribution to that group, will he confirm that the position at present is that the Government will be tabling a secret document to that Reflections Group meeting and there will be no debate in the House in advance of that meeting on what the Government may be doing? Does not that sit rather uneasily with the Government's determination to strengthen the role of national Parliaments?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend, of whose interest in these matters I am very much aware, will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister's questions and I am not in a position to add to that.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May we have an early debate on Members' interests? I am talking not about the financial interests that we will be considering when we debate the Nolan report later, but the far more interesting juicier interests that Government Whips apparently record in a book in their office about which I have been reading in the newspapers. How thick is the book? Is it true that it has now gone into a second volume and the Whips are contemplating a loose-leaf format? In the interests of open government, that book should be published so that we can all see it and have a good laugh.

Mr. Newton

As a former Whip myself, I am more than well aware of the dangers that I would face were I to answer the hon. Gentleman's questions, so I shall not.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have a debate next week on Chiltern Railways' proposals for west London's summer service, so that I may bring to the House's attention the cut of the 5.18 train to Northolt Park in my constituency, the cut of other highly popular trains at important periods, and the deteriorating service to my constituents? The House should know about it and something should be done.

Mr. Newton

I can best point my hon. Friend to the fact that it is Transport questions on Monday.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Has the Leader of the House had a chance to consider early-day motion 1143, which relates to yesterday's Ministry of Defence raid on Greenpeace offices, and a similar motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen)?

[That this House deplores the raid on Greenpeace offices as an infringement of their right to campaign against nuclear weapons and the dangers from nuclear power; and notes that this comes after the conclusion of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty negotiations and demonstrates the paranoia of the Ministry of Defence about peace organisations.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that it is important that the matter be fully debated and discussed in the House? Had that raid occurred in any other part of world, with a Government sending their MOD police force into the offices of an organisation that had been openly critical of nuclear proliferation and the development of the THORP fast breeder reactor system, our Government would have been the first to condemn that Government for their action. Does it not smack of something very nasty when a Government try to shut down an organisation that is dedicated to peace and openness, rather than accept the arguments that it is putting forward?

Mr. Newton

As I understand it, criminal damage had been committed, and a search was being conducted for evidence related to that criminal damage. Of course, the Government always defend the rights of peaceful protesters, whatever their cause, but they will also defend the position that demonstrators who commit a criminal act should be dealt with under the law.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

May we have a debate as early as possible on employment creation in the UK as so much good news is occurring in that sector that it is unlikely that the Opposition will choose one of their Opposition days to discuss that matter? We could consider the successive drops in unemployment, today's good news that Iceland Foods has announced the creation of 5,000 jobs, 1,000 of which will be created this year, and the announcement by Whitbread, which has a brewery close to my constituency and where some of my constituents work, that it is to create 5,000 extra jobs, 1,000 of which will be created in the north-west, with an investment of £15 million.

Mr. Newton

I am delighted to hear that further practical evidence of good news on the employment front, not least in my hon. Friend's constituency. He will have heard the points that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made earlier in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir J. Gorst).

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his reply both to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and grant time for a debate on the injustice being meted out to nurses? I have read the intimidatory letter sent by the Minister for Health, and nurses will never abandon their patients in the way that this Government have abandoned the national health service. Is it not time that nurses received the 3 per cent. pay rise, that they got justice and that fewer threats were made against them?

Mr. Newton

When one looks at the figures that are frequently given about the increased resources going to the NHS, and the huge capital building programme that is under way, it is absurd to suggest that, in some sense, the NHS has been abandoned.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

May I join my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) in calling for a debate on local government? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in relation to education, local government in Derbyshire holds back £720 per pupil? If we had a national education funding formula, that money could go straight into the schools.

Mr. Newton

That was another good point. It sounds to me as if the entire period of Education questions next Tuesday can be fruitfully employed.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on new housing policies in Britain, given the report published by the National House-Building Council, which points out that, in the past month, applications by house builders for new housing starts were 16 per cent. down on the previous year and, in the preceding three months, they were 17 per cent. down on the previous year? If he could arrange for such a debate in Government time, it would give the House the chance to endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) in his Adjournment debate yesterday criticising the Treasury-led damage caused by undermining the confidence of the British housing market.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise a debate, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government, will continue with their efforts, among other things, to encourage greater private investment in the social housing sector.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

If I show a certain lack of practice in asking business questions, I apologise.

Under the National Lottery etc. Act 1993, it is possible for the House to vote annually on the distribution of the proceeds of the lottery. Many of us are concerned about the fact that only 6p in the pound goes to charity; can my right hon. Friend tell us when it is likely that we can engage in such a vote?

Mr. Newton

I am afraid that, notwithstanding all the good will that I bear my hon. Friend, I cannot give him a date for a debate of that kind. I shall certainly consider the point that he has raised, however.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

When the Leader of the House opened an exhibition in the main Committee Corridor marking the anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1979, he will have noticed a reference to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which is currently going through the House. If he had popped along the Corridor, he might also have noted that the Bill's progress back to the Floor of the House is being considerably delayed. The same applies to other Bills, such as the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill, which has not yet gone into Committee to be duly considered. Will the Leader of the House examine the problems currently affecting private Members' Bills?

Mr. Newton

If the hon. Gentleman heard the speech that I made upstairs, he will know that I went to some lengths to avoid becoming embroiled in current controversies, as distinct from marking the achievements of the past 25 years. I shall stay in that mode now. My concern is to ensure that we make further progress by means of the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)

My right hon. Friend is aware of Conservative concern about the Opposition's policy in regard to a statutory minimum wage, and the huge job losses that would result from its implementation. Will he assure us that the scope of next Wednesday's debate will be wide enough for Conservative Members to express their concern, and also to point out that the cynical deal that seems to have been put together with the unions does not fool anyone? We all know what the level of the statutory minimum wage will be: it will be what the unions want. They pay for all Opposition Front Benchers, they pay for all their offices and they pay for their party.

Mr. Newton

So far we have seen only the title of next Wednesday's debate, not the wording of the motion; but the title certainly seems wide enough to embrace the point made by my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Given the Prime Minister's stated determination to drive out sleaze from public life, is it not about time that we had a debate on the use of private management consultants by Government Departments—particularly Prowess Management, which I understand has been used by Departments to find appointees to quangos without having to resort to competitive tender? There has been a strong recommendation to that effect from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to all Departments.

Mr. Newton

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is visibly sitting next to me, I shall merely say that those representations have already been drawn to his attention.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)

Will the House have an opportunity next week to consider the proposition that an Opposition Leader who is sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union, and whose private office is funded by the Industrial Research Trust—which is partly funded by the TGWU—could ever, in office, resist the demands of the TGWU for a minimum wage of £4.10, which would throw millions of people on to the scrap heap?

Mr. Newton

Again, Madam Speaker, I am invited slightly to take over your role in judging what will and will not be in order during a debate. I think, however, that my hon. Friend has a good chance of being in order if he makes that point.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to study the points of order that were raised yesterday, in particular the one that drew attention to a possible manipulation of our procedures by Ministers for their own party advantage? The example given was the way in which, on Monday and yesterday, they had linked questions in one case and not in another, to the great advantage of Conservative Back Benchers and to the disadvantage of Opposition Back Benchers.

As the House cannot intervene in such matters—although it is always said that questions are linked with the permission of the House—will my right hon. Friend ensure that the practice, which constitutes an abuse of democracy and our parliamentary procedures, is ended?

Mr. Newton

I was present when the hon. Gentleman raised his point of order. If I may say so, Madam Speaker, I thought that you dealt with it admirably.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Leader of the House aware that if we had a debate on education, as proposed by the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), we would be able to point out that Derbyshire local education authority does not have the spare money that was suggested? That money is held back to pay for school meals because, unlike some other local education authorities in which schools administer and pay for school meals and other administrative overheads, in Derbyshire the schools decided to have the money kept centrally. There is no spare money. I have a suggestion for the right hon. Gentleman. If all the 200 Tory Members who have six, seven, eight and nine jobs gave all the money that they get from moonlighting, we could make up the pay shortfalls, not just for teachers but for nurses, too.

Mr. Newton

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman's contribution is intended as an advance on today's debate or on next Tuesday's Education questions. I will leave him to make up his mind.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

Does the Leader of the House agree that because the Nolan committee did not deal with the funding of political parties, if hon. Members seek to raise that subject in today's debate, they are likely to be ruled out of order? In view of the widespread concern about the matter, especially as expressed by the hon. Members for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) and for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate about the funding of political parties immediately on our return from the recess? Does he accept that, as someone who was chair of the Labour party's finance committee for five years, I will be prepared to ensure that every aspect of the Labour party's finances is presented in the House, if the right hon. Gentleman will guarantee that the appropriate person in the Tory party presents all their figures in the House?

Mr. Newton

Perhaps as a gesture of good will in this context, the hon. Gentleman might care to pick up my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's suggestion that the Labour party could start by conforming with the rules suggested by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the application of the Hague convention could lead in my constituency to a case whereby a child of 14 months, Lucia Johnson, could be taken from her mother by sheriff officers, placed in custody and put on a plane to Spain without anybody from her family being in her company? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if that happens, it would run counter to the principles of the Children Act 1989 and the Children (Scotland) Bill, which is being discussed by Parliament, which rightly assert that the future of the child is paramount? Will he therefore insist that the Secretary of State for Scotland makes a statement to the House or, at least, introduce a debate so that we can decide whether there is a conflict between our perceived international obligations and the clear will of the House on child welfare?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has understandably raised a point of importance, not least to the individuals concerned. The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that, without being more fully aware of the circumstances, I could not properly comment, beyond saying that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is due to answer questions next Wednesday and I will bring that point to his attention.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Will the Leader of the House allow in the near future a debate on the vindictive decision of ScotRail to withdraw the dedicated sleeper service to my constituency? That is despite an assurance given to me in January that if the Fort William sleeper service was not withdrawn, the Carlisle service would continue. Yesterday, official figures showed that the subsidy to the Carlisle service was far less than that to any other sleeper destination. May we have an urgent debate on the matter?

Mr. Newton

It sounds to me as if the hon. Gentleman's point would be an appropriate subject for representations in relation to the recently issued proposals for passenger service requirements. I am sure that he will make his representations.