HC Deb 02 November 1995 vol 265 cc393-402 3.30 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. We need to get on with the business question.

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 6 NOVEMBER—Debate on the second report from the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Motion relating to the appointment of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Medical (Professional Performance) Bill.

TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER—Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Bill.

Motion relating to Select Committees.

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

WEDNESDAY 8 NOVEMBER—Subject to the progress of business, the House is expected to be prorogued.

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the Leader of the House for the statement. First, I want to ask him about the motion on Select Committees that we shall be debating on Tuesday. Will he provide us with relevant information so that we can consider in advance what will happen with the Select Committee that will have the responsibility for monitoring the new Department of the Office of Public Service? Will he make it clear that the Committee will be able to monitor all the activities of the Deputy Prime Minister?

Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House—including the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), who is nodding—has passed all its stages in the other place, that there is no opposition to it and that there is co-operation among all those involved in the issue? As the House is not short of parliamentary time over the next few days, will the right hon. Gentleman try to find time to allow the House to reach a final decision on the Bill which, as I said, has widespread support? He would not be creating a precedent by doing so and I am sure that the Bill would be welcomed on both sides of the House and outside it.

Finally, what has happened to the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill, and why? Surely the House should have a full statement about the Bill, especially bearing in mind the amount of time spent on it in both Houses. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall, that on every occasion during the past parliamentary year that an hon. Member has raised the issue of domestic violence and the women and children who are victims of it, the Minister responding has said that we should wait for the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill? What will Ministers say now? Will the Bill come back to this House?

Mr. Newton

On the Select Committee proposals, which I said that I hope that we can discuss on Tuesday, I hope to be tabling the relevant motion later today. It will make clear the terms of reference that we propose for the Select Committee with which the hon. Lady's question was especially concerned.

As for the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill, I refer the hon. Lady—as I recently referred the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall)—to what I said last week: It has been established over many years that the time available for private Members' Bills is set at the beginning of the parliamentary Session by a decision of the House."—[Official Report, 26 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 1154.] That remains the case. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind my saying that I have met him, as requested, but had to explain that I saw no basis on which the Government could make special arrangements favouring one private Member's Bill over others. I should say, however, that I am extremely sympathetic to the Bill. I hope that it will prove possible for it to be passed speedily in the next Session of Parliament, given the extent of the agreement that is said to exist and which I hope does exist.

As for the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill, I understand that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department has just answered a parliamentary question saying that the Lord Chancellor has listened to the concerns expressed about the Bill and is considering them. He goes on to say that the timetable is such, however, that it is now impossible to make further progress this Session and that my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor will continue to work on the Bill with a view to bringing it back before Parliament as soon as possible.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

When my right hon. Friend introduces Monday's debate on the Select Committee's report, will he explain how he reconciles the terms of the first resolution, which appears to preclude parliamentary advisers from speaking in the House on matters of which they have knowledge, with paragraph 22 of the report, which states that the Committee is not proposing such a ban?

Mr. Newton

I shall of course seek to cover that point in my speech on Monday. I can certainly confirm that the purpose of the Committee and the intention of the resolution is as described in the paragraph of the report to which my hon. Friend refers. The Committee specifically made it clear that it did not wish to deprive the House of informed contributions to debates initiated by others under those circumstances.

Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch)

Does the Leader of the House realise that women suffering domestic violence will be very disappointed by the answer that they have heard this afternoon and that, in fact, they will be very angry? Why should they have to wait when the matter has been before both Houses and there is time for us to discuss it this Session? Is not the Leader of the House aware that a majority of hon. Members wish the Bill to proceed?

Mr. Newton

I cannot add to what I have already said on the matter but, as this is an important part of the background to it, I will say that the Bill was introduced as an uncontentious Bill. It proceeded through most of its stages, thus appearing to confirm that it was uncontentious. It then manifestly became contentious, which changed the basis on which it had originally been introduced.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that John Sweetman, Companion of the Order of the Bath, has retired after 41 years' service of great distinction to the House, as set out partially in early-day motion 1557?

[That this House notes the retirement on 31st October of Mr. John Sweetman, CB, TD, formerly Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Committees; recognises his unique contribution over 41 years of service to the House in facilitating the parliamentary process at Westminster and in fostering the development of parliamentary government abroad; and expresses its appreciation of his pragmatic advice and good humour which will be missed by honourable Members and colleagues alike.]

Irrespective of the early-day motion, will my right hon. Friend consider finding a short time, perhaps at the start of public business in the near future, to enable the House to pay tribute to John Sweetman's work?

Mr. Newton

I shall give some thought to my right hon. Friend's latter point, but I shall no doubt be advised about setting precedents. Leaving aside the question of whether it is possible, I can tell my right hon. Friend, although it is probably indiscreet of me to do so, that I sought to find a way to add my name to that early-day motion, only to be advised that it was unheard of for Ministers to add their names to early-day motions. I therefore refrained from doing so. The reason why I wanted to add my name is that I would wish wholeheartedly to endorse the tribute that my right hon. Friend has paid to Mr. Sweetman.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

May I associate myself with the request made by the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery)? I am pleased that the Leader of the House is going to consider whether the House can pay tribute to Mr. Sweetman. Opposition Members remember him not only for his ability—he was very helpful to many Labour Members—but for his good humour. He not only assisted many of us in the House but gave valuable advice to many Parliaments overseas. We shall certainly miss him after his 41 years' service to the House.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that you, Madam Speaker, would also want to associate yourself with those words. Even if I am unable to produce a positive outcome of my consideration, I very much hope that Mr. Sweetman will take what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), by the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, by myself, and the warm way in which it has been received in the House, as a tribute in itself.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the role of the family in British society? He would probably agree that we have reached a watershed: should the role of the family be enhanced, or should it be undermined, which certainly seems to be happening in public debate? Does he not agree that it would be helpful to all parties concerned if the House met to debate that important issue so that we knew exactly where we stood?

Mr. Newton

Obviously, I shall give consideration, as always, to what my hon. Friend says, but I certainly cannot hold out hopes of such a debate before prorogation.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Will the Leader of the House advise me on the best way of raising the procurement of military ambulances for the United Kingdom armed forces as a matter of urgency? He will be aware that there is a good deal of concern among the management and work forces of the Rover Group and Marshall SP in my constituency about the rumours that that very important purchase is to go to Steyer of Austria.

Mr. Newton

I am not in a position to comment on the outcome of any particular procurement exercise. The hon. Lady will know that such exercises take place within national and international rules, as I think I observed last week. However, I shall bring her question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Sir Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Will my right hon. Friend find an opportunity to congratulate the BBC on 50 years of "Today in Parliament", as well as the editor, Mr. Geoffrey Sumner, and all the members of the team who produce it day after day? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be absolutely splendid if the broadsheets started to carry proper parliamentary reports, as they used to?

Mr. Newton

I very much hope that those responsible will look very carefully at the last part of my hon. Friend's remarks. As to the first part, I am sure that his words will be welcomed by those who work so hard to produce the programme, although not necessarily by all those who attend on it.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Given the fact that on Monday we have the Tory snouts in the trough debate, and as the Prime Minister has now changed what was going to be a free vote into a test of his credibility, since every member of the Government will be expected to go into the Lobby behind him, is the Leader of the House prepared to comment on whether it would be a resigning matter should the Prime Minister be defeated?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has indicated the view that he takes of the Select Committee's recommendations, which, as it happens—it will not surprise the hon. Gentleman—is exactly the same view that I take. It is especially important to note that the recommendations go so far beyond the recommendations of the Nolan committee itself, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), a member of the Nolan committee, said. That is a very important factor. As for myself, I obviously very much hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends of all kinds will support motions which I have tabled on behalf of the Select Committee and which I believe are right.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

In view of today's Court of Appeal decision in the case of Mr. Newbery, the 82-year-old man who shot at a persistent burglar in self-defence, will my right hon. Friend consider finding parliamentary time to debate the apparent conflict that has arisen between criminal and civil law in matters of self-defence?

Mr. Newton

I shall of course bring that point to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who will no doubt wish to study the judgment to which my hon. Friend refers. I recall, however, that my right hon. and learned Friend made some observations on that general point some weeks ago.

Mr. Keith Hill (Streatham)

May I refer the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1556?

[That this House condemns unreservedly the show trials and death sentences passed upon Ken Saro-Wiwa and his co-accused; calls upon the British Government to use all practical means at its disposal both directly and through the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to reverse these sentences; and calls upon Nigeria's military rulers to commute the death penalty.]

Is the Leader of the House aware of the sense of outrage felt on both sides of the House at the death sentences passed on Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues following a mockery of a trial in Nigeria? Is he further aware of the wide perception that the Government's verbal condemnation of the Nigerian military Government is quite inadequate and that a new and tougher Commonwealth sanctions initiative is necessary? Therefore, will he ensure that the Foreign Secretary attends the House to listen to hon. Members' views in advance of the Commonwealth summit at the end of next week?

Mr. Newton

I shall bring my right hon. and learned Friend's attention to the hon. Gentleman's latter request. As to the principal issue, I repeat in quite strong terms that we deplore the death sentences passed on Ken Saro-Wiwa and his co-defendants following what we regard as a flawed judicial process. We understand that the sentences are subject to review by the provisional ruling council, and we urge that council to commute them.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the roads programme? Does he realise the concern that exists in Worcestershire about rumours that Her Majesty's Government are thinking of adopting the Labour party's policy and abandoning the roads programme in total? That would have very serious implications for the Worcester western bypass and the Wyre Piddle bypass in my constituency, and the Broadway bypass in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer).

Mr. Newton

If I understand my hon. Friend aright, he is inviting me to speculate on the outcome of the public expenditure round. I hope that he will understand that I do not feel able to do so.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1539?

[That this House urges the Home Secretary to transfer Patrick Kelly and Michael O'Brien from Whitemoor Prison to prisons in either Northern Ireland or the Irish Republic in view of their compelling compassionate circumstances. ]

Will the Leader of the House suggest to the Home Secretary that he should make a statement, I hope early next week, announcing the transfer of both men to prisons in either the north of Ireland or the Republic of Ireland? Not only is that in the interests of humanitarian justice and compassion, but it would help to redeem the somewhat tattered reputation of the Home Secretary.

Mr. Newton

I shall bring those remarks to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is the Government's long-established policy not to agree to prisoners transferring to another jurisdiction, except in very exceptional circumstances, if the result will be a substantial reduction in the time served. That general policy applies to the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May I warmly associate myself with the remarks made on both sides of the House about my near constituent and Ealing resident Mr. John Sweetman? I ask my right hon. Friend: could the House debate the work of the Ealing, Hammersmith and Hounslow health agency next week in order to investigate the suggestion by some bureaucrat that the breast diseases unit at Ealing hospital should be transferred to hospitals nearer to central London many miles away, which would be inaccessible to my constituents? We cannot allow that to happen: the unit must remain at Ealing hospital.

Mr. Newton

I note, and I am sure that everyone will agree with, my hon. Friend's earlier remarks about John Sweetman. As to his latter comments, the obvious and proper course is for me to draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary.

Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate about the monopolies that are being created within the brewing industry? As a result of recent mergers, two companies—Scottish Courage and Bass—control more than 50 per cent. of sales. That has caused anxiety and concern among local breweries, such as the Home Brewery, which is the only brewery still operating in Greater Nottingham.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that there are established procedures for considering the kind of complaint that he makes at the Office of Fair Trading and, where appropriate, at the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will want to consider the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed an article that appeared in The Times of 1 November under the heading "High Streets doomed"? Does he agree that the allegations in the article are serious? Does he consider it appropriate that time should be allowed for a debate on the future of the high streets in order to highlight both the action that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is taking and what further action might be appropriate in order to encourage retail sales in our high streets?

Mr. Newton

I will certainly give consideration to that request.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on security arrangements at 10 Downing street? On the assumption that the statement would be something more than, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, we are the softest touch of all," will he explain how people without passes will be restricted from wandering round 10 Downing street, and will he comment on the rumour that the intruder was not noticed because the place was simply full of people who did not know why they were there anyway?

Mr. Newton

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's question as, according to the accounts that I have seen, the intruder must have passed by the side of my office.

I can say only that the incident to which he refers is being investigated, and I am sure that the investigation will be thorough.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

As it has been acknowledged since Adam Smith that capital taxation drives capital abroad, attacks enterprise and destroys jobs, and now that it is increasingly acknowledged that lower capital taxation could produce rises in tax yield and that the abolition of capital taxation could increase the yield of other taxes by more than the cut would seem to cost, can we have a debate on the effects of capital taxation? Would not it expose the truth about the Labour party—that Labour simply does not know what policies will make Britain fit to compete in the global economy?

Mr. Newton

I would have thought that the Budget debate, which is now less than a month away, might provide such an opportunity for my hon. Friend. As for the rest, however, he appears to be inviting me to pass from speculation on the public expenditure round to the other half of the Budget, and I will not do that.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does the Leader of the House recognise that, although there is supposed to be a free vote on Monday, clearly it is a three-line Whip for the Government, which makes a mockery of the so-called free vote? Are we right to conclude that, when we look through the Division list on Tuesday we shall find that not a single Minister, however junior, voted against the line put forward today by the Prime Minister?

Mr. Newton

I do not think that I can add to what I said earlier. I certainly hope that everyone will feel able to support the motions that I have tabled on behalf of the Select Committee.

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on social services on Lancashire, where the county council is currently destroying care in the community by completely mismanaging its social services budget? Is he aware that many elderly patients are being driven into county residential homes while the private nursing sector is being driven out of business by the county council?

Mr. Newton

I well understand why my hon. Friend raised those points. Similar concerns are being raised in many places, including my own county. I shall certainly bring his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith)

As we are not allowed a debate on the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill next week, may we have a debate on the protection of families against domestic violence and child sexual abuse? As the so-called controversial clauses are already enacted in the law of Scotland, why do not the Government for once stand up to a handful of extremist Back Benchers?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot add to what I said before, but I must underline the fact that the Government sought to advance the Bill on the original understanding that it was uncontentious. Clearly, having become contentious, it requires different parliamentary handling.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Will my right hon. Friend find time as soon as possible to discuss waste in local government? It would give me the opportunity to discuss two yawning examples in Lancashire. The first involves the Labour-controlled county council, where the director of education has sent out a letter trying to frighten governors and parents about next year's education settlement when he does not know any of the figures. Also, the leader of Labour-controlled Preston council, Valerie Wise, ousted the town clerk, which is costing more than £1,000 per week. Even though Valerie Wise was this week deselected in her own ward, the town clerk remains out of office.

Mr. Newton

It is clear that my hon. Friends believe that there is a good deal to be investigated in Lancashire. Apart from the point that I have already undertaken to bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, I will bring the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

Will the Leader of the House intercede with Scottish members of the Front Bench to arrange a debate on the state of the funding of the court system in Scotland? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this morning, Falkirk court had to abandon its business because the procurator fiscal could not supply a member of staff to prosecute? At least 10 cases were abandoned, and people on criminal charges walked free from court because there were not enough staff. Obviously there is a serious problem in Scottish courts with rising crime and the underfunding of the court system.

Mr. Newton

I was unaware of the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman described, but I have no doubt that they and the hon. Gentleman's remarks will be examined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

May I too ask for a debate on the Government's road-building programme, which would give the opportunity to discuss a dispute concerning the M5 between the Highways Agency and its agents and Tilbury Douglas, which has indirectly affected the jobs of about 100 people from P. J. Burkes, a building contractor in my constituency? I understand that the problem can be resolved easily and quickly, and I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend asked the appropriate Transport Minister to ensure that that is done as soon as possible.

Mr. Newton

I shall certainly do that.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary concerning the safety of people who are returned to Nigeria? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask them to make a statement to the House, particularly in respect of Abdul Onibiyo, who was deported from this country last week by immigration officials? His family have been left here, but are subject to deportation orders.

Mr. Onibiyo was taken to Lagos airport and handed over to local security officials, but he has not been heard of or seen since. That situation is causing great distress to the trade union that supported Mr. Onibiyo in his campaign against deportation and, obviously, to his family. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the high commission in Lagos is contacted immediately to ensure that Abdul Onibiyo is in a place of safety in Lagos?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise an immediate statement, but I undertake to ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is aware of the important situation in Nigeria.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the House adjourned at 8.31 pm last night after a one and a half hour debate on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill in which a large number of hon. Members wanted to speak, to make constituency points. When so much time is available, what is the point of truncating the business of the House? If time is available, could the House debate the location of the next English national stadium, about which concern is felt on both sides of the House? The idea that it should be in Wembley, organised by a company that could not run a whelk stall, seems scandalous. Hon. Members in all parts of the House should have an input.

Mr. Newton

On the latter point, I might say gently to the hon. Gentleman that there were recent debates on sport and on the national lottery, in either of which he could have raised those points. As to the first part of his question, arrangements for last night's debate were made through the usual channels for the convenience of the House. I note the hon. Gentleman's comments, but part of the problem was that the preceding business was of unpredictable duration.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

As it seems that the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill will be reintroduced in some form in the next Session—although some believe that it should have been fully dealt with in this Session—could not the same be done for the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill or for another Bill that would alter the Disability Discrimination Bill to embody the principles of the former Bill? As with the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill, the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill secured overwhelming support on Second Reading in all parts of the House, and there is massive support outside the House for its introduction.

Mr. Newton

Personally, I certainly share the hope that, if the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill has the general agreement that it is said to have, it will be possible for it to make rapid progress in the next Session. That is not something that I can determine as a member of the Government. On the latter point, the hon.-Gentleman has every reason to be aware that, even if the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill has become non-controversial, his Bill certainly has not and the same considerations do not apply.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

May I welcome the Leader of the House's comments about the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall)? I do not know whether he is aware that I was one of the people who drafted the compromise that went to the House of Lords, with help from Home Office officials, which I and my hon. Friend appreciated.

Despite agreements and assurances from all parties involved at that stage, when the Bill went to the other place, those agreements were reneged upon. It is clear that there are buffers and duffers in the other place who will never pass that measure unless the Government give it some time and support, which they have the power to do.

Mr. Newton

I cannot comment further on the question of providing Government time, which has repeatedly come up in this Session. On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I was not a party to those discussions so I am not in a position to comment, except to say that I think that the way in which he put them was aggressive, to put it mildly. On my reading of the proceedings in the other place, some points were raised that even the proponents of the Bill acknowledged needed to be considered.

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

With regard to next Monday's debate, is the Leader of the House aware that I heard him on the radio saying that he chaired the Select Committee as a Member of Parliament, not as a member of the Government? Will he therefore tell us what discussions he had with the Prime Minister or any other member of the Cabinet before producing his final Chairman's report to the Select Committee?

Mr. Newton

I received representations from many colleagues in their capacity as Members of Parliament, and I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to give details at the Dispatch Box of conversations that I have had in the corridors of this place.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

We shall return to that issue on Monday.

In view of the reply that the Leader of the House gave me about the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill, may I press him further? I am not sure that it is right for a reply about the future of the Bill to be given by written answer in the possibly unprecedented situation of a Government Bill completing all its stages and then being withdrawn at the last minute.

I have two specific questions. What happened to make the Bill contentious? Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Bill did not change, but that what changed was the pressure from some of the extremists in his party? Secondly, what will happen to the victims of domestic violence in the interim before a new Bill is introduced? Is he aware that dropping the Bill at this stage is not in the interests of children who may be suffering from abuse? The Bill made new provision for the removal from a home of a suspected abuser, rather than requiring social services to remove a child who is being abused. It also made it easier to arrest those in breach of a court injunction.

As more damage will be done before the Bill can be brought back, can the Leader of the House say what the Government intend to do and tell us the time scale for the reintroduction of the Bill?

Mr. Newton

Not at present. I cannot add to what has been said this afternoon, which is that my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor will continue to work on the Bill with a view to bringing it back before Parliament as soon as possible.