HC Deb 30 November 1995 vol 267 cc1363-9 5.17 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

After all that excitement, I shall make a statement about next week's instalment. The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 4 DECEMBER—Continuation of the Budget debate.

TUESDAY 5 DECEMBER—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

WEDNESDAY 6 DECEMBER—Until about 8 o'clock, Second Reading of the Audit (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Chemical Weapons Bill.

Motion on the criminal injuries compensation scheme.

THURSDAY 7 DECEMBER—Debate on the European Union on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

FRIDAY 8 DECEMBER—Debate on the Government's policy against crime on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 6 December, as follows:

European Standing Committee A, European Community Document 8962/94 and COM(95)434 relating to the fruit and vegetable regime.

European Standing Committee B, European Community Document 9554/95 relating to food aid.

In the following week, on Monday 11 December there will be the Second Reading of the Asylum and Immigration Bill. On Tuesday 12 December there will be the Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill. On Wednesday 13 December, there will be Government business, the nature of which has yet to be determined. I expect Thursday 14 December to be an estimates day, subject to the recommendations of the Liaison Committee at its meeting on 5 December. Friday 15 December is, I remind the House, a non-sitting day.

[Wednesday 6 December:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community documents: (a) 8962/94, Fruit and Vegetable Regime; (b) COM(95)434. Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: (a) HC 48-xxvii (1993–94) and HC 70-ii (1994–95); (b) HC 51-i (1995–96).

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community document: 9554/95, Food Aid; Relevant report of the European Legislation Committee: HC 70-xxvi (1994–95).

Thursday 7 December:

Debate on the European Union—Relevant documents: The Twenty-fourth Report of the Select Committee on European Legislation, Session 1994–95, on the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference: the Agenda; Democracy and Efficiency; the Role of National Parliaments (HC 239–1); Resolution of the European Parliament on the functioning of the Treaty on European Union (A4–0102/95); Report by the Commission on the operation of the Treaty on European Union (SEC(95)731); Report of the Council on the functioning of the Treaty on European Union (Cm 2866); Unnumbered Report by the Court of Auditors on the operation of the Treaty on European Union; Unnumbered Report of the Court of Justice on certain aspects of the application of the Treaty on European Union; White Paper on Developments in the European Union January-June 1995 (Cm 3130).]

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the Leader of the House for that information. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the exchanges at business questions last week, when the Leader of the House was asked about the BBC World Service, but said that he felt he could not respond because he could not anticipate the Budget statement? Will he look at the issue of the World Service again, because we now know that the Chancellor has slashed the World Service's capital funds by £5.4 million—a massive 20 per cent.? That tears up an agreement which was negotiated in good faith by the World Service and which was to have lasted for three years.

The BBC chairman, I understand, has expressed his concern about the impact of the cuts on the World Service, and I believe that there is widespread public support for the BBC World Service which is shared by Members on both sides of this House. Will the Leader of the House now consider a specific debate on this cost-effective service which has been struggling with a tough financial settlement and which may now have to reduce its—and therefore Britain's—voice in the world? Will he think again on that issue?

Secondly, we heard the Prime Minister today at Prime Minister's Question Time trying to defend the actions and record of Yorkshire Water in recent months. The latest figures show that while Yorkshire Water has been threatening thousands of families in Yorkshire—and West Yorkshire in particular—with rota cuts, it has been making record profits. That shows, as Yorkshire Waterwatch has said, that it is clear that the company has had enough cash sloshing about all Summer to have dealt with the underlying problems much more quickly". There is also a danger that Yorkshire Water might seek to use the cost-pass-through mechanism to try to make sure that investment costs are passed to consumers. Is it not time that we had a full debate on the need for better regulation of the privatised utilities so that we can air our concerns that, time after time, the interests of shareholders are put before the interests of consumers? We have seen clear examples of the concerns that have been caused by that behaviour, especially in Yorkshire, and the House should have a full debate on the regulation of the public utilities.

Finally, is the Leader of the House aware that, in recent days, Resurgence Railways has been dropped as the Government's preferred bidder to take over the Great Western Railway because it could not offer adequate financial guarantees? Today we have learnt that the first part of the passenger railway service to be privatised, the special trains division, is in deep trouble as its new owners, Waterman Railways, is in bitter dispute with BR and Railtrack about charges for track access and other services. Given the scale and frequency of the difficulties arising with rail privatisation, surely we should have a full-scale debate in the House before this fiasco goes any further.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady was perhaps more political than she usually is on these occasions, and I shall not reply in quite those terms. I cannot give any commitment to provide time for debates on any of the matters that she has raised although, as always, I shall consider what she says. I have no doubt that there will be opportunities to raise those matters in various ways in the next few weeks.

In response to the hon. Lady's comments on the first subject, I would have thought that it would probably be in order to raise that matter during the Budget debate, since it arises from what she attributes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement on Tuesday. I shall bring all of the hon. Lady's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends who have responsibility in those areas.

I thought that the Prime Minister made a perfectly sensible point at Prime Minister's Question Time today when he simply stated the fact that Yorkshire Water will, we understand, be investing more than £200 million this year—more than double its half-year profits. The fact is that money for investment clearly must come from somewhere, and the Opposition are always demanding more investment.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye)

In view of today's statement on the revenue support grant, would it be in order to debate education in the Budget debate? We could then put under the microscope the behaviour of local education authorities such as East Sussex, which are scaring parents, teachers and governors into unnecessary concerns about potential cuts which prove to be totally wrong.

Mr. Newton

It is not for me to advise my hon. Friend about what is or is not in order during the Budget debate. But I understand that it would be in order to refer to the expenditure side of the Budget under the arrangements that we now have. I am sure that even if my hon. Friend is unable to participate in the debate, her remarks will be carefully studied.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

May I commend the Leader of the House for his noble efforts to give us as much information as possible as early as possible? Close study of the Order Paper makes it very clear that the fruit and vegetable document—a very important piece of European legislation that will have a direct effect upon a great many fruit and vegetable growers and customers in this country—is to be debated on Wednesday morning and immediately voted upon on Wednesday evening.

I did hope that the Government had got away from this cavalier attitude, which assumes two things—first, that European Standing Committee A will totally accept whatever it is told on Wednesday morning. and secondly, that there will be no dissenting amendment. I hope that this will not become a habit. If it does, Parliament will get a reputation for ignoring the interests of its constituents.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for what the hon. Lady said at the start of her question. I am not absolutely sure of the background to the point that she then went on to raise, but I shall look into it. We try to avoid the occurrence of such matters, but sometimes it becomes inevitable because of the timing of business in Europe. I shall look into what may have happened on this occasion.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Will the Leader of the House provide time for an urgent and early debate on the future of selective schools in England? If those schools are not allowed to select their pupils—either by examination or by interview—they will become comprehensive schools. That is an important fact to advertise in the House and elsewhere in the nation.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend has raised an important point, but I do not think that I can promise time for a dedicated debate, as it were. But it was clear from the Gracious Speech that there will be a number of opportunities to debate education matters during this Session.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Following on from the question from the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait), will the Leader of the House confirm that there will as usual be a debate before we rise for Christmas on the local government settlement pursuant to today's statement? Can he give an indication as to the dates of the specific supplementary legislative proposals to implement the Scottish and Welsh procedural changes announced by the two Secretaries of State yesterday and today?

Mr. Newton

On the latter point, I cannot at present give a specific time for the debates. We would like to get the changes agreed by the House as soon as possible in order that their beneficial effects should be felt as soon as possible. I have forgotten the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Hughes

The local government settlement.

Mr. Newton

I am not sure if the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is normally a debate before Christmas. I shall look into it, but my recollection is that the matter is normally debated when the orders are brought before the House in the early part of the new year.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

May we have a debate next week on race relations, so that we can investigate the deplorable remarks apparently made by a prominent member of the Labour party from Leicester on "Dispatches" only last night? Regarding the deputy leadership of Leicester city council, he asked: Why should we have a white person? May we have a debate so that we can discuss whether such overt racist language is Labour party policy?

Mr. Newton

I did not see the programme, but I am aware of reports of it. In view of the serious nature of the allegations that have been made, I am sure that they will be carefully examined, not only by the hon. Gentleman himself but by the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In view of the excellent work being carried out by President Clinton, be it now in Northern Ireland or what he has done in Bosnia, and the excellent speech that he gave to us yesterday, will the Prime Minister make some sort of apology next week for how the Conservative party actively tried to stop President Clinton being elected and quite likely used Home Office records to try to prove that he dodged the draft?

Mr. Newton

Such a question contributes nothing to what we would all like to achieve. I endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the quality of the President's address yesterday. Having been present at that speech and at some more informal exchanges between the President and the Prime Minister, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the relationship between them is very warm.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

May I support the call for a debate on the funding of the BBC World Service because it has an immensely high standing around the world, giving intensified stature to this country among listeners around the world? I would differentiate strictly between the World Service and the BBC's domestic service which is not of such a high standard. The advantage of such a debate is that it would show that Ministers have paid careful attention to the funding of the World Service. They could explain the split funding between grant through the Foreign Office vote and the possibilities for commercial income for the BBC.

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's suggestion. Like the representation of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

As a debate on the local government settlement has been called for, would not it be a good idea, as Ministers have lessons in French and German on the all-party Whip—I have never been—to hold arithmetic lessons for Ministers? We heard the story about £870 million extra for education. Along comes a Minister today and we find out that it is all made up of wage increases and inflation. The result in Derbyshire and many other authorities is that schools will be about £40 per pupil worse off this year than last. It is all a mirage. Let us get the sums done properly.

Mr. Newton

I do not, of course, accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestions. This is a substantial additional sum for education. One thing at least is clear: the hon. Gentleman needs no lessons in English.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an urgent debate on early-day motion 3?

[That this House calls on the Government to acknowledge that over 3,000 people with haemophilia have been infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) as a result of NHS treatment with contaminated blood products; recognises that over 50 people with haemophilia are now understood to have died from liver disease contracted as a result; and considers giving similar financial assistance to those infected with HCV, who currently receive no additional help, as for those infected in the same way with HIV who have been compensated by the Government.]

He will be aware that the motion has been signed by 250 hon. Members from both sides of the House, which is almost a majority of those eligible to sign an early-day motion. The cost of such a concession would be relatively slight, and it would right a fundamental wrong.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend knows of previous responsibilities that I have had in similar matters. I therefore have great sympathy with those who may inadvertently have been infected with hepatitis C through national health service treatment, but the patients received the best treatment available in the light of medical knowledge at the time. In the absence of negligence, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has no plans for special payments.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

When is the Leader of the House likely to proceed with the orders dealing with reorganisation of local authorities that are to have elections in 1997? I hesitate to mention my authority today in view of the criticism, much of it unfair. As the Leader of the House knows, Leicester has been a model for race relations in the United Kingdom for the past 20 years. However, there is increasing concern in my city about the delay in proceeding with the order. Will he seek to allay that fear and give a definite date?

Mr. Newton

I am afraid that I cannot give a definite date this afternoon but I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who will be responsible for proceeding with the orders.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

If we cannot have a debate on the water industry, particularly Yorkshire Water, will the Leader of the House encourage the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement to the House, I hope to announce a wholly independent public inquiry into the affairs of Yorkshire Water, which seems to combine breathtaking incompetence with awesome contempt for its customers?

On the Asylum and Immigration Bill, will the Leader of the House ensure that the so-called white list of safe third countries is published before the Bill's Second Reading, which is to take place a week on Monday?

Mr. Newton

I cannot be as helpful as I would naturally like to be on either point. I have already referred to the Yorkshire Water question, as did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. On the latter point, I was present at Home Office questions earlier today when the Minister of State, Home Office commented on that subject. I cannot add to that this afternoon.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When can we debate the savings that could be made by replacing Select Committee trips abroad by techniques such as video conferencing? Not only would that be much more efficient and save a great deal of money, but it might produce much better reports. Has the Leader of the House noticed that many of the reports compiled in the House are much better than those delivered by Committees that travel far abroad? Does not that prove the Chinese proverb that the further one travels, the less one knows?

Mr. Winnick

I would not put it to the vote.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has been more helpful than I can ever remember him being before. I shall rest on his comment.

Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 134:

[That this House welcomes the visit of President Clinton to this country and looks forward to the continuation of good relations between the United Kingdom and the USA; believes, however, that this would be better served by good corporate behaviour of British firms in America; and deplores the attempts by Hanson to cut the wages and conditions of their employees in California.]

Will he arrange time for a debate on the behaviour of British corporations abroad? Should not they enhance Britain's reputation abroad rather than damage it, as Hanson is doing by cutting the wages and conditions of workers in California?

Mr. Newton

Just as the corporate activities of United States companies here would be a matter for them subject to United Kingdom law, the corporate activities of British companies in the United States are a matter for them as governed by US law.