HC Deb 26 October 1995 vol 264 cc1145-55 3.31 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

May I ask the Leader of the House the 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 and until prorogation will be as follows. I should make it clear that the business for Monday 30 October is different from that which I announced last week.

MONDAY 30 OCTOBER—Proceedings on the Northern Ireland (Remission of Sentences) Bill.

TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Disability Discrimination Bill.

Proceedings on the following Bills, which are consolidation measures Proceeds of Crime (Scotland) Bill [Lords] Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Bill [Lords] Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Bill [Lords] Criminal Procedure (Consequential Provisions) (Scotland) Bill [Lords] Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [Lords]

Remaining stages of the Law Reform (Succession) Bill [Lords], the Private International Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill [Lords] and the Civil Evidence Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 1 NOVEMBER—Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Gas Bill.

Motion to suspend further proceedings on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill until the next Session of Parliament.

Motion to provide an instruction to the Select Committee on the consideration of additional provisions to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill.

THURSDAY 2 NOVEMBER—Motions on parliamentary procedure.

Debate on the Government response to the first report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 3 NOVEMBER—Debate on fundholding in a primary care-led national health service on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 6 NOVEMBER—Debate on the second report which is expected to be received from the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life.

TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER—Consideration of any Lords amendments that may be received to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Bill, followed by consideration of any Lords amendments that may be received to the Medical (Professional Performance) Bill.

Motions relating to Select Committees.

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

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

The House will also wish to know that the following European Standing Committees will meet at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows:

[Tuesday 31 October:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community Document: 7942/95, Television. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 70-xxv (1994–95).

Wednesday 1 November:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community Documents: (a) 9532/95, Reform of Regime, (b) 9379/95, Reform of the Rice Regime: Standard Quality of Rice. Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports: HC 70-xxv (1994–95), HC 70-xxv (1994–95).

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community Documents: (a) 5663/95, Promotion of Employment, (b) 6827/95, Social Action Programme 1995–1997. Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports: HC 70-xiii (1994–95) and HC 70-xviii (1994–95).]

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

I thank the Leader of the House for that information. Is he aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), the promoter of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill, has now agreed a set of amendments with the Bill's opponents? In the light of the support that the amended Bill now commands in all quarters—both in this House and in the other place—will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the very small amount of time that is needed will be found to allow a Bill that has widespread public support to become law?

Let me now ask about Government business. Will the Leader of the House clarify the position of the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill? Will he confirm that the Bill was introduced by a Minister—the Lord Chancellor—under the "fast track" Jellicoe procedure, as non-contentious legislation, and has completed nearly all its stages in both Houses? Is a long-overdue measure to tackle domestic violence being destroyed by the extreme wing of the Conservative party?

Will the Leader of the House find time, in the very near future, for a debate on nursery vouchers? Does he recall that, in July, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment undertook to consult and to report back in the autumn? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, so far, public opinion has been almost universally opposed to the voucher scheme; that there is widespread support for properly funded quality nursery education; and that even the few remaining Tory local education authorities are against the scheme? May we have a debate very soon to discuss who is correct—Conservative councillors in Solihull, or the Secretary of State?

Finally, will the Leader of the House take up the points that were raised earlier in Prime Minister's Question Time, and ensure that we have an opportunity to debate the serious public concern about the changes to housing benefits payments, which Opposition Members voted against? They constitute a miserable attack on a very vulnerable group, which is alarming many people in the House and the country.

Are all those developments—the handling of the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill, the nursery voucher scheme and the cuts in housing benefit—simply more signals of the Government's dangerous lurch to the right?

Mr. Newton

There seems to be a common script for the periods before and after 3.30 pm nowadays.

Let me take the hon. Lady's points in reverse order. Her question appeared to confirm what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in response to her right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—that, far from having been leaked, the proposals were discussed openly and agreed by the House.

I need hardly say that I do not recognise the hon. Lady's description of the position relating to nursery vouchers. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment announced the names of three authorities that will participate in the pilot schemes in phase 1, and others are still considering whether to participate.

A number of points have been made to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor about the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill, which he has undertaken to consider. I think that entirely appropriate.

It is, I think, well known in the House that the amount of time for private Members' Bills is clearly established at the beginning of each Session, and that is the position in the current Session.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

May I remind my right hon. Friend that the very important air service agreement negotiations between the United Kingdom and the United States of America failed at the end of last week and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport was not able to come to the House to make a statement about that matter? Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that at an early date Her Majesty's Government will introduce a full debate on civil air transport, which is of particular importance to the Heathrow area and many other areas in this country?

Mr. Newton

I cannot give my hon. Friend that complete undertaking, but I will bear his request in mind. He well knows, and by implication acknowledged, the importance that the British Government attach to these matters.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Recognising that the Leader of the House has had quite a lot of his time tied up in the Nolan Committee, for which we are grateful, does he expect that he will be able to make an announcement about the disposition of the new Select Committees before the new Session starts? I refer him briefly to the two statutory instruments standing in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, on probation and optical charges regulations. If it is possible before the end of the Session, it would certainly benefit the House if we could have Committee stage debates on both.

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Gentleman's latter point. In answer to the first half of the hon. Gentleman's question, amidst the profusion of business that I announced, which perhaps indicates the difficulties of fitting in further business, was a reference to the fact that I hoped to be debating motions relating to Select Committees on Tuesday 7 November.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

In view of the fact that President Yeltsin has died, would it be possible for us to have a debate, or at least a statement, next week if there are any ramifications for this country's foreign policy?

Mr. Newton

I have myself only just heard what I am sure will be news greeted with sadness and shock in the House. Although I note and understand why my hon. Friend raised the matter, he will understand that I would not wish to comment in quite the way in which he invites me to.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Will the Leader of the House read column 713 of Hansard of 23 October, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) raised a point of order with Madam Speaker regarding Asda and its decision to stop paying enhanced payments for Sunday work in its shops? Will the Leader of the House find time next week, or between now and prorogation, to debate not only Asda but a number of other retailers who promised the House, when we were discussing the Sunday Trading Bill, that they would agree to pay double time on Sunday and that they would enhance payments? Only 18 months have passed since the Act was introduced, but they are reneging on promises that they made to a number of hon. Members, who would not have gone into the Lobby and voted as they did if they had known that this would happen. Some of us took a principled stand and did not vote. We might have lost jobs in the Whips Office as a result, but nevertheless we took that principled stand.

I think that the Leader of the House should find time for this matter, which is urgent, because in addition to that—I am on my last point, Madam Speaker—Burger King is paying young workers £5 for five hours' work. It is time that the whole question of shopworkers' employment in this country was given time in the House for a full debate.

Mr. Newton

I do not immediately recall the exchanges to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I am sure that his remarks will be examined carefully by those at whom they are directed.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the quality and the price in defence contracts are roughly equal they should go to the home industry rather than abroad? Will there be an opportunity before the House rises to debate that policy, when some of us will be able to point out that the 700 military ambulances that are required by the Ministry of Defence can be supplied in excellent quality by the firm of Marshalls of Cambridge, in conjunction with Landrover, and costing £10.5 million less than the Austrian competition?

Mr. Newton

Subject to the rules—national and international—about public procurement, I hope that I may be allowed to wish my hon. Friend's constituents well.

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

I wish to raise the fact that Post Office Counters Ltd. has decreed that it will downgrade Cambuslang Crown post office in my constituency to the status of an agency post office. It has said that it will not consult on the matter and that the public are to have no say. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week by a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry to explain why a public service, under the control of the Government, can act unilaterally and refuse to consult the public on a change that will have a grave effect on the public?

Mr. Newton

I should point out that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will be answering questions on Wednesday 1 November. I shall bring that putative question to his attention.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Did my right hon. Friend notice that when the shadow Leader of the House raised the matter of nursery education, she did not say a word about the families whose children have not gained a local government nursery place, nor about the families whose children attend private nurseries, nor about the families whose children are at playgroups, all of whom will be helped by nursery vouchers? Does not that prove yet again that the Labour party is concerned only with producer interests, especially in local government?

Mr. Newton

I did indeed notice that omission from the hon. Lady's remarks, and I am glad that my hon. Friend has been able to rectify it.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

You may recall, Madam Speaker, that on 13 March this year I requested a statement from the Secretary of State for Health about the little girl formerly known as Child B who is now publicly known as Jaymee. Will he grant time for a debate on who gets treated under the national health service? Has not this gutsy little girl shown that she deserves treatment? Her chances of survival are now much better. Should she and her family be going around with a begging bowl? Should not we have a debate and give hon. Members the opportunity to vote on whether she should get treatment under the NHS?

Mr. Newton

Everyone will understand why the hon. Lady has raised this matter and will want to wish the little girl well. The hon. Lady may have the opportunity to raise the matter again during Health Questions next week, but I must emphasise that it is always for clinicians to decide on appropriate treatment in individual cases. Had the doctors treating Jaymee at Addenbrooke's and the Royal Marsden recommended treatment, it would have been given.

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

May I join the calls for an urgent debate on Britain's relations with Russia in view of the news of President Yeltsin's death and the fact that there is now a power vacuum at the heart of one of the world's super-powers? May I ask my right hon. Friend to take this opportunity to express the House's condolences to those members of the Russian Duma who were visiting the House and were in the Gallery when news of his death came through?

Mr. Newton

I can certainly accede to my hon. Friend's latter question. As for my hon. Friend's first question, I would not wish to add anything to what I said earlier.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the appropriate Minister to make a statement on the barbaric killing of one of my constituents and the fact that the two killers received only a three-year sentence? Will he do so as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Newton

I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's request to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and, I suppose, that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and, indeed, that of my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear his question in mind when the House comes to consider the recently announced proposals on sentencing policy.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on membership of the House so that we have some idea of who is acceptable as a candidate for the various parties and who is not? Perhaps we would then have an explanation of why someone implicated in the murder of a 77-year-old woman in Johannesburg is acceptable as a Labour candidate but someone who holds the views of many Labour Members, especially those below the Gangway, is not.

Mr. Newton

I am left to answer a fair number of questions on behalf of the Government, but that appears to be a question directed at the Opposition. I am not even sure that the hon. Member for Dewsbury heard it, but I shall ensure that it is brought to her attention.

Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South)

I refer the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1486:

[That this House demands that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry refers the impending merger of North West Water and Norweb to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.]

Many hon. Members who represent the north-west are concerned that a takeover will have major implications such as job losses, service reductions and increasing prices. It is confirmation of a botched privatisation. Will he find Government time to debate this important issue so that we can ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to refer the takeover bid to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? Quite straightforwardly, electricity and water are a lethal combination.

Mr. Newton

The proposed merger is of course subject to the usual procedures: the Director General of Fair Trading advises my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who then decides whether to make a reference to the MMC. In those circumstances, it would be quite difficult for my right hon. Friend to make further comment, but, as I have already said, he will be answering questions in the House next week.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on local government in London? Is he aware that Hackney council has now been forced to reinstate its corruption-busting director of housing, who should never have been suspended? Does he not agree that Hackney, Lambeth and Islington are a good advertisement for what new Labour stands for?

Mr. Newton

They are certainly not a good advertisement for the Labour party.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

May I bite your hand, Madam Speaker, which has fed me on Wednesday mornings in the past in relation to Libyan sanctions, Iraq sanctions and Lockerbie? I refer to Thursday's business. Could we have a statement on the gradual erosion of Back Benchers' rights? What has happened to those Friday debates? The Minister with responsibility for science said rightly on Friday that we had had an excellent and useful debate, yet there are now very few Back-Bench debates. How by some alchemy do we no longer get second Adjournment debates? Frankly, on Wednesday mornings, the debates have become Speaker's choice rather than any pretence of balloting. The balloting motion is something of the past. Although often it could be very inconvenient. Everything now seems to be run for the convenience of the Front-Bench teams. Some Back Benchers think that the inconveniences of balloting ought to come back to us and we will be voting against the Jopling arrangements and all the works of the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling).

Mr. Newton

There appear to be one or two points that might be thought to be directed at you, Madam Speaker, rather than me. I have no doubt that you too will reflect on them. I would make three points. First, the changes have been made in response to recommendations from Select Committees, agreed by large majorities in the House. Secondly, in my judgment at least, the Wednesday morning debates have provided a welcome opportunity for many hon. Members to raise more subjects than they used to have the opportunity to do. Thirdly, elaborating on the second point, if the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures, he will find that infinitely more people have had a chance to raise subjects as a result of the changes than were ever able to under the previous arrangements.

Madam Speaker

Hear, hear.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

It is so nice to hear you speak, Madam Speaker. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate or a statement early next week on the projected strike on London Underground—which will so exacerbate the problems that my constituents have in getting to and from work and, indeed, cause the whole of London to suffer greatly—noting that the people concerned are asking for twice the pay increase which has already been accepted by two unions? Is not that a disgrace and very unfair to the people of London?

Mr. Newton

I very much share the hope that my hon. Friend by implication expressed—that the action will be reconsidered. I shall bring his request for a statement to the attention of my right hon. Friend. Perhaps I might also take the opportunity, Madam Speaker, to thank you warmly for giving me your support, just as I always seek to give you mine.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us a forewarning of when the House may rise. I also thank him for the progress that has been made this year on dealing with Northern Ireland business in the House. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that further progress will be made in the forthcoming Session, and that we shall legislate more through Bills and less through Orders in Council?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging the progress made this year, and I hope that he will accept that, although I make no further specific commitments, what has happened this year is an earnest of my good faith in hoping to make further progress next Session.

Madam Speaker

Mr. Patrick Jenkin—[Interruption.] Sorry, Mr. Bernard Jenkin.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

He is the ugly one.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

Will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate that would graphically demonstrate that the Labour party is, always has been and always will be the party that it always was? I ask for a debate on the way in which the Labour party has handled social services in Essex. First it promised the earth, then it made a complete hash of the policy, and finally the Labour chairman is resigning his post because he wants nothing to do with the measures now needed to bring the policy back on course.

Mr. Newton

No debate is required to establish the first of my hon. Friend's propositions, which is clearly proved by almost every utterance from the Opposition Benches.

As for my hon. Friend's second point, as his immediate constituency neighbour I am myself conscious of the problems. A most unhappy situation has arisen concerning Essex social services, and I hope that it will be properly and quickly dealt with. Finally, Madam Speaker, may I add that my hon. Friend's right honourable father might be rather disturbed by my hon. Friend's having been mistaken for him.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

As the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) has raised the idea of vetting parliamentary candidates, will the Leader of the House extend that idea and make a statement along those lines, so that every parliamentary candidate, from every party, will be vetted by a kind of toughened-up Nolan committee? In that case, no future candidates would be allowed to enter Parliament with conflicts of interest, or if they were making money on the side and had directorships coming out of their earholes, like the 200 current Tory Members of Parliament who have 550 directorships between them. If candidates were vetted in that way, the House of Commons would be a lot cleaner, and there would be no more conflicts of interest. The people outside would support that.

Mr. Newton

That sounds like a plea for a House of Commons consisting of 651 Bolsovers. The mind boggles.

Sir Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

As one who is not, I believe, an extreme right-winger, may I say how glad I was to hear what my right hon. Friend said about the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill? Will he confirm that it has been dropped for this Session? And if that is the case, and we therefore have a little spare time, may we at least have a statement from the Foreign Secretary on Monday about our relations with Russia?

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's second suggestion and shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend. As for his first question, I confirm what I said. I do not have a script in front of me, but I think that that was to the effect that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor was considering the arguments that have been put to him.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When can we have a debate on the need for electoral reform to control the total sums spent by political parties at national level during general elections? I have introduced two Bills that sought to make that change, and I argued that there was a grave danger that a malign millionaire could spend huge sums in support of an extremist cause. That has now happened. A millionaire is threatening to spend more than all the parties at the previous general election, in support of an extremist right-wing cause. Although the Government previously failed to support my two Bills, will they do so now to save their own skin, and for the sake of the integrity and good reputation of our electoral system?

Mr. Newton

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not really think that we need the help of his Bills to make sure that our sensible policies are put across to, and accepted by, the electorate.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Representing, as I do, Macclesfield in the county of Cheshire may I tell the Leader of the House that there is concern in all political parties in that county about the resources for education allocated under our standard spending assessment? We are not criticising the Government for singling out Cheshire as an example; we are, however, worried about the area cost adjustment, which does not properly take into account the costs incurred by Cheshire in providing a good quality of education.

Will my right hon. Friend find time, if not before we prorogue then perhaps early in the next Session, for a debate on this matter? In it, Members of Parliament who share the concerns of all political parties in Cheshire about the way the county is treated under the standard spending assessment formula can express their views.

Mr. Newton

There may be an opportunity for that point to be made in the debates on the Address which we would expect to follow the Queen's Speech on 15 November, or in the Budget debate that will come shortly afterwards. In any event I would anticipate a statement on local authority finance in the couple of days after the Budget.

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

May we have a statement on the responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister, who has defined them as: deregulation, the civil service, and market testing? While the Leader of the House is making up his mind on that debate, will he look at columns 15 to 18 in the Official Report of 16 October and at the nature of the questions that the Deputy Prime Minister was asked in Question Time that day? Will he go on to consider how he answered those questions, when he clearly took responsibility for our defence obligations under various treaties, the Labour party conference, the issue of social democracy and the European Community budget?

I believe that the Deputy Prime Minister is answering questions in the House which go wider than his brief, yet we are not allowed to table questions in the Table Office on those very matters—hence the need for a debate.

Mr. Newton

That is a pretty funny question from an hon. Member who displays an above average ability—I pay tribute to it—to use parliamentary procedures intended sometimes for one purpose to achieve other ends, and to ask supplementaries that do not always appear to be directly related to the principal question.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on the control of pollution? Does he realise that the surprising acquittal of Vitalscheme yesterday in Oxford Crown court means that that company's irresponsible pollution of the rivers of Shropshire and Worcestershire will go unpunished—pollution that caused such concern to my constituents last year? Do not water companies such as Severn-Trent deserve to be supported when they bring such prosecutions to protect our rivers?

Mr. Newton

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is looking into the pollution of the River Tern as a matter of urgency, and is considering what lessons can be learnt for the regulatory regime and what action needs to be taken in this particular case. I shall of course bring my hon. Friend's further question to his attention.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

May I add to the remarks by the shadow Leader of the House about my Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill? The right hon. Gentleman is aware of the unanimous support for the Bill in this House. May I further advise him that this morning I held negotiations with the British Field Sports Society and others so that an agreed set of amendments can be tabled in the House of Lords and the Bill will have unanimous agreement there?

Given that we are just a whisker away from passing the Bill, may I ask the Leader of the House to meet me so that we can explore this issue and arrive at a constructive end for a Bill that has massive support in the country and in both Houses of Parliament?

Mr. Newton

I think I am right in saying that the proceedings on the Bill are continuing in another place. Therefore, I am not sure that it would be appropriate for me to undertake to have a meeting on the basis of speculation about what might happen. I must repeat the point that I made. 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. That remains the position. However, if only as a matter of courtesy and because I understand the hon. Gentleman's objectives, if he feels that it would be helpful for me to meet him against that background, I would be willing to do so.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Patience is rewarded. May we have a debate very shortly on the future use of county hall on the other side of the river? At the back we have Galliard Homes selling flats by means of misleading advertisements to potential purchasers in the far east. At the front, in the riverside block, we have the Shiriyama hotel—which has now given up the possibility of building a hotel—constructing a large aquarium and trying to sell on the shell of county hall to another organisation. Is that not a scandalous situation, brought about by the Government's ideological fixation with making sure that that building on a prime site opposite Parliament should be used for anything except that for which any decent Government would have ensured that it was used. No European Government would have treated such a prestigious building in the way that this shabby Government have treated it.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to accept, nor do I, his language, which I regard as overheated. I will bring the points that he has made, as far as they can be gleaned within the hyperbole, to the attention of my right hon. Friends.