HC Deb 08 February 1996 vol 271 cc471-83 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 12 FEBRUARY—Opposition Day (5th allotted day). Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on ministerial responsibility. That will be followed by a debate entitled "The Effect of Government Financial Constraints on Local Government Services". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

Motion on section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act.

TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY—Opposition Day (6th allotted day). Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on the morale of NHS staff. That will be followed by a debate on the private security industry. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

WEDNESDAY 14 FEBRUARY—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Security Service Bill.

Motion relating to the Local Government Reorganisation (Compensation for Loss of Remuneration) regulations.

THURSDAY 15 FEBRUARY—Motion to approve the agreement between the Secretary of State for National Heritage and the BBC.

FRIDAY 16 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 19 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill.

Motion on the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) order.

In the following three days, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I anticipate taking Government business, including the social security uprating orders. Friday 23 February will be a non-sitting day. On Monday 26 February I propose a debate on the Scott report on a motion for the Adjournment.

One other piece of information that the House might like to have is that, subject to the progress of business, I propose that the Whitsun recess will be from close of business on Wednesday 22 May until Tuesday 4 June.

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the Leader of the House for that information. I am sure that the House will welcome the final piece of information and the advance warning. I thank the right hon. Gentleman also for moving the debate on local government regulations from late on Tuesday evening to Wednesday. I think that that will be for the convenience of the House.

What further information can the Leader of the House give us in response to Madam Speaker's statement yesterday about access to the Scott report? Will he confirm that the Government are proposing that Her Majesty's Official Opposition should have only six hours' prior sight of the report next Thursday morning? What are the Government's intentions about providing access to the report to Back-Bench Members, about which I could make some suggestions? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is in the spirit of Madam Speaker's statement yesterday that Ministers should have eight days to consider the report while the Opposition have only six hours?

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the debate that he has announced for a week on Monday will be a one-day debate or the start of a two-day debate? There has been some speculation about that.

The Leader of the House has announced that on Monday the House will debate EU matters covered by section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986. May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that that debate does not negate the need for a debate on the items recommended for consideration on the Floor of the House by a unanimous decision of the European scrutiny committees? That is a matter that I have raised with the right hon. Gentleman for the past three weeks. When does he expect that we shall be able to debate them? When can we expect the White Paper on the intergovernmental conference?

Perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us also when there will be further meetings of the European Standing Committees. They were meeting twice a week before Christmas and they still has outstanding business to consider, but it seems that since one of them passed a unanimous decision on the IGC documents, which was embarrassing to the Government, they have been closed down completely. What are the Government's plans for that Committee?

Does the Leader of the House recall the request that I made to him a fortnight ago for a debate on the waste of money due to the mismatch between social security payments and entitlements? Does the right hon. Gentleman think it appropriate to debate the Government's proposals to cut by 25 per cent. the administrative budget of the Department of Social Security? Surely the need for such a debate has become more urgent so that we can ascertain whether what the Secretary of State for Social Security described today as "process re-engineering" will undermine the Government's anti-fraud strategy. We need to debate that issue.

Finally, will the Leader of the House confirm or deny the suggestion that the Government have decided to press ahead with the privatisation of Her Majesty's Stationery Office without any further reference to the House? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the strength of feeling on the issue and will recall that when a debate took place—the House did not divide—right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House said explicitly that the privatisation process should not be finalised without the House being able to make a decision. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a final decision is taken by the House itself and not by Ministers behind closed doors?

Mr. Newton

That was rather a long list. Perhaps I might start by expressing my gratitude to the hon. Lady for her words about the recess announcement and about her response to the usual channels' representations about the local government order, which is now to be taken on Wednesday.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated a few minutes ago that the intention would be, in line with comparable reports in the past, that Opposition spokesmen would be able to see the Scott Report some hours before publication. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] Hon. Members say "disgraceful", but if they take account of numerous precedents, they will find that what is proposed is properly in line with precedent. For Members of the House generally, I anticipate that—again in accordance with comparably weighty reports—the report will be made available when my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade makes his statement, which I expect will be at 3.30.

On the debate for Monday 26 February, about which I gave the House early notice, I intended my announcement to be in respect of a one-day debate.

On European Community matters, which the hon. Lady raised, of course I acknowledge that the debate intended for Monday 12 February should not be a substitute for what is being pressed for by the European Standing Committees. We are still considering their recommendations and I hope to be able to respond shortly to the proposals.

On the IGC White Paper, about which the hon. Lady asked me last week, I cannot add to what I said then.

On scrutiny committees, I have written today to the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) and indicated that I hope to make further progress shortly.

On social security, again the hon. Lady will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. I can assume only that she, like the Liberal Democrats, who have consistently demanded that the Government reduce administrative costs, now wants a debate to press the Government to increase administrative costs, or at the very least to end the effort to keep those costs down. I see no reason to suppose that what my right hon. Friend proposes will in any way diminish or damage the drive against fraud.

On HMSO, as the House knows, there is no need for further parliamentary proceedings before a decision is made, and therefore I do not anticipate such proceedings.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Will my right hon. Friend, who has shown himself to be a thoughtful and sensitive Leader of the House, think again about what he said about making the Scott report available? Is there not a case for allowing Back Benchers access to that report on an embargoed basis at least a few hours before it is discussed in the House? Is it not particularly important that the exchanges on that report should be sensible and based on fact?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend knows me well enough—he was kind enough to make some observations at the outset—to know that I would never simply reject out of hand such a request. I am bound to say, however, that I see the greatest difficulty, in that he asks for something that has no precedent in respect of any report, however weighty, and therefore I would not wish to encourage hopes that I might be able to respond in the way that he would wish.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

As my hon. Friends and I have given the House an opportunity on Monday to debate the principle of ministerial responsibility, can the Leader of the House confirm that the Minister who will speak in the debate on behalf of the Government will set out clearly the principles on which ministerial office is held in this country, and confirm that if the independent inquiry, which has the full confidence of the Prime Minister and was set up by the Government, finds that any Ministers have not discharged their responsibilities appropriately, they will, as has constitutionally been the custom in previous Administrations, leave office and resign?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. and hon. Friends who will speak in the debate on Monday will address the Government's policy on these matters with the clarity with which they always address matters.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

May we have an early debate on the over-representation in the House of Members of Parliament from Scotland, for if the people of Scotland have the misfortune to have devolution thrust on them, surely the House would wish to know by how many the number of Scottish Members should be reduced to bring them into line with the rest of the Kingdom? Is there any mechanism in the existing bodies that are examining the representation of Members of Parliament in the House to postulate a hypothetical figure that would bring the number of Scottish Members into line with English representation?

Mr. Newton

I see no sign in the reported remarks of the Leader of the Opposition that those or any other questions have been considered. I am thinking particularly of the question of the tartan tax, and above all—I see the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) rising in his place—the West Lothian question, as it used to be called.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I believe that the Leader of the House is trying hard to protect the interests of ordinary Members, and I therefore beg him to reconsider his answer about HMSO. This is a House of Commons matter: it is fundamental to the House of Commons. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman emphatically to consider the views expressed yesterday by right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) about the reputation of his Government before allowing the matter to proceed without a debate on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady, too, put her question in very kind terms. She will have heard what I said earlier, but I shall of course reflect on the point that she has made.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

The report by Sir Richard Scott, commissioned by the Prime Minister, touches on the most basic responsibilities of the House. It deals with whether the House was misled by Ministers of the Crown, and whether the liberty of the citizen was put at risk by the use of public interest immunity certificates. Will the Leader of the House give careful consideration to whether hon. Members who are elected on an equal franchise, and on the basis of equal representation, may have the same access to the document as the leaders of the Labour party?

Mr. Newton

Again, my hon. Friend will have heard what I said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). I am afraid that I cannot add to that.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

Although, strictly speaking, there may be no need for a vote on the privatisation of HMSO, does the right hon. Gentleman— as Leader of the House and defender of its interests— believe that, given the enormous importance of HMSO's services to the House, a vote is morally inevitable?

Mr. Newton

Again, I cannot add to what I have already said. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's constituency interest in the matter, but I hope that he will acknowledge that I took early action to enable the House to debate it, relatively soon after it had become an issue.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

Will my right hon. Friend consider arranging a debate, in Government time, on private education, so that hon. Members can have an opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) on his decision to send his children to private school? In framing the motion for that debate, will my right hon. Friend draw on the words of the hon. Gentleman, who has said that he pays income tax at the higher rate to finance the state system, and is entitled to pay out of his own pocket to educate his children where he wishes? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the hon. Gentleman's right will always be protected under a Conservative Government?

Mr. Newton

I can certainly confirm that the right to choice in matters of education will be not only maintained but enhanced under a Conservative Government. As for the rest of my hon. Friend's question, I am sure that there will be further opportunities to debate educational matters, as we are to deal with at least two education Bills during the current Session.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his decision relating to the distribution of copies of the Scott report to Opposition Members? The report is unique in that it concerns the Government's conduct, particularly that of certain Cabinet Ministers, and we should all be able to read what has been said in advance. I give the right hon. Gentleman a guarantee: if Opposition Members get an advance copy, we shall not sell it for £1,000.

Mr. Newton

I cannot add to what I said earlier, but I will say that, in my view, the time when it will be necessary for hon. Members to study the report thoroughly is when we come to debate it. That is why, although I have announced an early debate, I have allowed ample time for this very long report to be properly studied.

Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside)

Will my right hon. Friend make time soon for a debate on the Top Salaries Review Body considering Members' pay? I address his attention in particular to the fact that, if certain constitutional changes were to take place, Scottish Members would be unable to ask questions or work on matters that had been devolved to Scotland. Consequently, they would become part-time Members and that would surely influence salary levels and outside interests.

Mr. Newton

If my hon. Friend has in mind a proposal that Scottish Members should be paid less, he might care to put that to Sir Michael Perry.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

As it is clear that the Leader of the House and other hon. Members have concentrated their minds today on the scrutiny issue, may we have a statement next week on what seems to be the increasing abuse of planted questions on the Order Paper? I draw particular attention to today's Order Paper, which contains substantial questions relating to public service pay, prescription charges, safety on school buses and many other issues, including water authorities in Scotland. As a Scottish Member, I will be asked to comment by the press, who will no doubt be receiving the answers to those questions about now. I will not have seen them, although it is my duty as a Member of Parliament to scrutinise every aspect of Government legislation. Will he therefore deal with that serious issue quickly?

Mr. Newton

I shall consider the hon. Lady's point, but I am puzzled about how she puts it. There is nothing new about the practice of making announcements through written answers in the way that she appears to suggest is happening here. That has not caused difficulties in the past, and there is no reason why it should this afternoon.

Mr. Wilkinson

Repeatedly at Business Questions, including today, the issue of the scrutiny of European business has arisen. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, if there is a European ministerial Council in the period to 26 February, to which his statement refers, the Minister concerned will report back to the House in a statement? There should, for example, have been such a statement after the recent European Fisheries Council and there was not. That is a thoroughly bad precedent.

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's point. He will agree that it is right to consider such matters on a case-by-case basis, but there is a long history of statements being made when we thought it appropriate.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate in Government time on their attitude to the emergency services? He will recall that, on Tuesday, the Prime Minister heaped praise on the fire service and talked of the selfless bravery of firefighters, yet the Government's financial settlement for Tyne and Wear fire authority has left it with a £2.3 million shortfall. Is that not an example of hypocrisy and of the Government saying one thing and doing another?

Mr. Newton

I need hardly say that I do not accept the argumentative thrust of the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I will bring his point on Tyne and Wear to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

May we have an urgent early debate on the constitutional relationship between Members of Parliament and their constituents, given that some Opposition Members appear to have difficulty deciding where their loyalties lie? Is it to the people who elect them or to the unions who sponsor them?

Mr. Newton

I shall certainly bear in mind that topic for debate as, alongside a number of other constitutional issues, a growing number of Opposition Members are not answering questions. Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen): Is the Leader of the House aware that, as a direct result of cuts imposed by the Secretary of State for Scotland, the new City of Glasgow council faces cuts in services of more than £60 million to balance its budget? In view of the crisis facing that council and other councils in Scotland, will the Leader of the House undertake to consider next week's business and allocate some time to bring the Secretary of State here to try and justify his actions?

Mr. Newton

With the relatively new sittings of the Scottish Grand Committee in Scotland as well as here, increased opportunities exist to bring such points to the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I cannot promise to make such a specific opportunity available next week.

Mr. Harry Green way (Ealing, North)

May we have a debate next week on local government finance, so that the House can consider the certain imposition on the council tax budget of several hundred pounds per household across London, including my constituency, if we had the regional government suggested for this country by the Leader of the Opposition last night? Will my right hon. Friend note that when pressed for detail, as the leading article in the Evening Standard says today, the right hon. Gentleman's words "turn to wool"?

Mr. Newton

I agree with my hon. Friend that many unanswered questions remain on such matters. But I am not sure that I can promise an early debate on them, because we have just had one.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the National Audit Office report released earlier this week, which revealed that £40 million had been overpaid to training and enterprise councils? South Thames TEC, which is now in receivership, has received a bill for £9.7 million, largely for courses that were inappropriate or did not take place. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that other training agencies in my borough have not been paid for courses that were carried out? I draw his attention to early-day motions 380 and 381.

[That this House notes with concern the revelation by the National Audit Office that the receivers of South Thames TEC, which collapsed in 1994, have been sent a Bill for £9.7 million of overpayments by the Department of Employment for training courses which were never run or did not qualify for Government help; and contrasts this with the fact that some training organisations, including voluntary bodies, have not been paid for training courses which have been run and which were eligible for government grant.]

The second early-day motion reveals that moneys voted by Parliament for a specific purpose may be applied to a wholly unrelated debt, as a result of the actions of the Department of Education and Employment. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate on that issue at an early stage?

Mr. Newton

I shall ensure that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is made aware of the hon. Gentleman's concerns, and I can tell him now that the receiver has been working with the Department to secure appropriate evidence and reduce the bill. Any payments to unsecured creditors are a matter for the receiver.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

May we, as a matter of urgency, have a debate on what is clearly a crisis in education provision in south-east London? About a fortnight ago we heard of a mother who had to reject all the schools in Labour Southwark and send her child to a grammar school in Conservative Bromley, and today evidence has emerged of a father who has severely criticised schools in Labour Lewisham and is sending his children to a private school. Clearly there is a crisis, but what is particularly odd about the crisis is where the evidence is coming from—both those parents are Labour Members of Parliament.

Mr. Newton

I look forward to my hon. Friend's contribution to subsequent debates on the Bill dealing with grant-maintained schools' borrowing powers.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

Does the Leader of the House recognise that the Scott report is of exceptional interest to hon. Members? Can he tell us when the report will be made available to Lobby and other journalists? If it can be made available to them under an embargo—and we know that as soon as they receive it they will start ringing up Members of Parliament for their comments—surely it would make sense to make copies available to Members at the same time as they are made available to the Lobby.

Mr. Newton

I do not expect copies to be made available to others before they are made available to Members of Parliament.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Can I persuade my right hon. Friend of the urgent need for a debate on the recent report by the chief inspector of schools? He will agree that too many pupils in state-controlled schools are not reaching their full potential. In the commentary on the report one point seems to have been missed—most education authorities are controlled by the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats. Should not the Government now say what they will do with those education authorities to secure value for money in the teaching of our children?

Mr. Newton

For some time the Government have been pursuing a range of policies to enhance and improve education standards in authorities of all kinds. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made some further announcements earlier this week.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Surely the biggest unanswered question in the House this week is why civil servants who were called to give evidence to the Scott inquiry have not received a copy of the report, although the Ministers in their Departments have. It is understandable that the Government would not wish Opposition Back Benchers to have copies of the report, but is it not indefensible, and a gross misuse of Government power, that civil servants who give dedicated service to the people of this country have been denied access, whereas their Ministers have received copies eight days in advance?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady will know that the arrangements have been agreed with Sir Richard Scott. The position as I understand it is that neither Ministers nor civil servants have access to the report now unless they need it to help prepare the Government's response. There is no difference between the position of Ministers and the position of officials in that respect.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

May we have an early debate on early-day motion 379?

[That this House notes with concern the Evening Standard's report on Islington Council, the local authority in which the Right honourable Member for Sedgefield has his home; understands that the council has been unable to calculate properly its own performance against national indicators, and has published inaccurate information in the local press as a result; notes that financial arrangements are unsatisfactory in several important respects; further understands that the council does not know the nature of its housing stock; congratulates the Evening Standard on its report; believes that the performance of the Labour-controlled authority in which the Right honourable Member resides exemplifies the reality of his party in power; and calls on him to deal with Labour's inability to run councils such as Islington before expressing readiness to govern Britain.]

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the incompetence of Islington council demonstrates that new Labour is just as incompetent as old Labour? Anyone thinking of voting for new Labour would be well advised to look at Camden, Hackney, Islington and Lewisham, as they would then realise that new Labour is just as bad as old Labour, and— as has been said before—is hard Labour.

Mr. Newton

I am aware of early-day motion 379. The performance of Islington council is yet another warning to anyone who doubts the risks of allowing Labour to take control.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

Although I am sure that no Opposition Member feels any personal hostility to the mistresses of Charles II, or to any of their descendants, we are baffled why they should have the same right to make laws as those of us who have been elected. In the light of the Cabinet's bizarre view—as expressed by the chairman of the Conservative party—that the continuation of the hereditary right to legislate is an essential part of British democracy as we know it, will the Leader of the House arrange for the right hon. Gentleman to come to the Dispatch Box and explain those views on behalf of the Government?

Mr. Newton

I would like the Leader of the Opposition to explain why he talks about the constitution without addressing any of the real issues, such as the tartan tax or the West Lothian question. Given that some 30 hereditary peers were among those who voted against the Government in the other place earlier this week, I am mildly surprised that there is so much hostility towards them among Opposition Members.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

May I thank the Leader of the House for agreeing to meet some of my constituents from Clay Cross later today? May I also thank him for his replies to two previous business questions that I have raised about the work of the European Standing Committees. Perhaps I will be lucky for a third time. May we have a debate on the work of the compensation recovery unit? The unit takes away masses of benefits that have been paid to people such as a constituent of mine from Grassmoor who received an award of £40,000 following two mining accidents, only to find that £22,000 of that was taken away. There is a threshold of £2,500 before money starts to be taken away, which results in many solicitors advising people only to take awards below that amount. A report on the matter by the Select Committee on Social Security has been produced, so it would be appropriate for us to have such a debate.

Mr. Newton

Having pleased the hon. Gentleman— somewhat unusually—in two requests, I would love to make it a hat-trick. All that I can say, however, is that the Government are carefully studying the Select Committee's report.

Mr. Gerald(St. Helens, South) Bermingham

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the length of time allocated to debate the Scott report on the Floor of the House? In an average debate—even when Madam Speaker imposes a 10-minute rule—the maximum number of speakers who can take part is fewer than 30, or less than 5 per cent. of the Members of the House. The time at which the report will be in the hands of ordinary Back-Bench Members will mean that their ability to ask pertinent questions following the statement of the President of the Board of Trade will be somewhat limited. As this is one of the most important reports since the Franks report in the 1980s and earlier reports in the 1940s and 1950s, would it not be fairer and wiser to extend the debate to perhaps two or three days?

Mr. Newton

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but many important matters are debated in the House on the basis of one-day debates and it is not uncommon for there to be debates in which not everyone who wishes can take part. I certainly cannot promise always to provide enough time in relation to any subject for everyone who would like to participate to do so.

Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the need for an urgent debate about the devastating changes proposed for the social welfare and support system? As a former Secretary of State for Social Security, he will know that in Tyne and Wear the present Secretary of State's statement puts more jobs at risk than all the jobs that we have lost in coal and shipbuilding in the area in the past 10 years.

Mr. Newton

The Department's aim is to try to improve efficiency in the delivery of the social security system by roughly a quarter in three years. Considering what is being said in other areas—for example in relation to national health service administration—it would seem entirely right that the Government should be trying to keep down administrative costs in the interests of expenditure, in this case on benefits, or, in the case of the NHS, on patient care.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Security to make a statement and justify why the War Pensions Agency is taking disability allowance away from war pensioners without there being any recourse to an appeal procedure? Or is it just a scam by the Government to raise revenue, so that they can dish it out in tax cuts for the rich leading up to the next general election?

Mr. Newton

That question verges on the irresponsible. The hon. Gentleman must know that there is nothing new about the way in which the war pensions system operates, going back over many decades. The method of operation has not been changed significantly by the present Administration, apart from the creation of the agency. That said, I will bring his concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Is the Leader of the House aware of all the significant developments that are, or could be, taking place in football? There is the possibility of a European Super League, the challenge to the deal between the Premier League, BSkyB and the BBC, and all the problems over the rulings on the transfer system. Those decisions are being taken by unelected people—general supporters have no input. There is no Parliament for football supporters. The people who are taking the decisions are self-appointed. Should we not have that debate here? We are the Parliament for football supporters and we should debate those developments. It would certainly please me and it might even please the Prime minister.

Mr. Newton

I have often thought that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would be rather good on some terraces, but, on the main thrust of the question, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) might like to consider applying for a Wednesday morning debate

Mr. Skinner

I used to play.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is very good on the pitch, too. I do not think I would want to run into him, however. I used to play as well. Indeed, I was captain of football at school. Coming back to the question, if the hon. Member for Newham, North-West is proposing a debate on sport, I will add it to what I call my little list.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

At Prime Minister's Question Time, the Prime Minister talked about precedents. The Leader of the House has also talked about comparable precedents. What precedents does he have in mind? If it is the Franks report, I gave evidence for an hour and 25 minutes to Lord Franks and his colleagues and I assure the Leader of the House that there is no precedent there. First, what precedents does he have in mind?

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), did we hear the right hon. Gentleman wrong when he said that Ministers and civil servants would be treated in exactly the same way? Therefore, is a civil servant like Sir Stephen Egerton, who gave evidence to Scott, to get a copy of the report eight days before it appears, like the Chief Secretary to the Treasury? The relevant question that my hon. Friend asked was whether civil servants who may be criticised, like Sir Stephen Egerton, were going to be treated like Ministers. What is the answer? Will Sir Stephen Egerton, whom I use as one example, get his report eight days beforehand? If he does not, the Minister's reply is misleading to the House, although doubtless he did not mean it to be.

Mr. Newton

If there is any question of something that I have said being misleading to the House, I will look into what the hon. Gentleman has said and correct it in an appropriate way. My understanding is that neither Ministers nor civil servants have access to the report now unless they need it to help prepare the Government's response. That is what has been agreed with the inquiry.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Newton

That is what I said. That has been agreed with the inquiry, and any change to that position, if that is what the hon. Gentleman is urging, would similarly need to be discussed and agreed with the inquiry. On the first part of his question, the precedents that I had in mind were the Learmont report, the Nolan report and the report on Barings. I think that what I have suggested this afternoon would be broadly in line with what was done on those occasions.

Rev. Martin Smyth

While I welcome the fact that there will be a debate on the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order, does the Leader of the House agree that that will be a wide-ranging rather than a specific debate? Would it be possible for a meeting of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee to be called to consider hospital provision?

Mr. Newton

I cannot make such a promise at the moment, but the hon. Gentleman knows that we are considering the matter, following the representations that he and others have made. I rather doubt that we shall be able to resolve that before the debate that I have announced this afternoon.

Mr. Janner

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that I asked last week for a debate on the disgraceful vandalism in schools in my constituency? He said that he would refer the matter to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. Has he done so, and has he had a reply? He will be appalled, as I was, to learn that three more schools have been vandalised in my constituency in the past week—Wycliffe community college, New Parks community college and, perhaps worst of all, the Emily Forte special school. Those schools need protection, fencing and closed circuit television. They cannot get them without affecting the education of the youngsters. There should be Government money for that, and we should have a debate soon.

Mr. Newton

I understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—although I am not sure exactly when—to discuss some of those matters. I think that the points that he made last week have been—certainly, I asked that they should be—brought to my right hon. Friend's attention. I have a number of points that I could make to him, but I will ensure that my right hon. Friend writes to him.

Mr. Mackinlay

May we have a debate in Government time about Government policy on cautioning offenders? The right hon. Gentleman will recall that I raised the matter last week and asked him to have a word with the Home Secretary about whether he would be prepared to answer questions on that during the debate on London policing. He failed to do that, other than to say that I had reached new depths of ignorance—which, of course, is Howardspeak for saying that I am correct.

We should have a debate because there is a Government circular on policy which will be of concern to Labour and Conservative Members. Policy is not being properly and equally applied. Replies have shown that 13 people were cautioned for rape in 1994. There is widespread concern that the Home Secretary is not on top of his brief on cautioning. May we have an early debate?

Mr. Newton

Anyone who thinks that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is not on top of his brief has not been paying close attention. I will certainly bring those further representations to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend, who is due to answer questions this day week.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

Can the Leader of the House assure me that the terms of reference of the debate on the Scott report will include not only what is in the report but what ought to be in it, and in particular, the fate of the ex-workers of Matrix Churchill, many of whom are constituents of mine or of my hon. Friends who represent Coventry? We want to be assured that we will be able to debate the circumstances that caused the loss of those employees' jobs—and the loss of income for their families—and the need for proper compensation, if that is what would be right as a result of the report.

Mr. Newton

Subject of course to your judgment Madam Speaker, it would be in order to raise in the debate anything that is considered relevant to the report or that arises from it.