HC Deb 22 February 1996 vol 272 cc509-18 4.27 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

With permission, I should like to make a statement on the business for next week, which will be as follows:

  • MONDAY 26 FEBRUARY—Debate on the Scott report on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
  • TUESDAY 27 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill [Lords].
  • WEDNESDAY 28 FEBRUARY—Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House.
  • Until 7 o'clock, motions on the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Reports. Details will be given in the Official Report.
  • Motions on the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order and the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order.
  • Money resolution relating to the Noise Bill.
  • Ways and Means resolution relating to the Prisoners' Earnings Bill.
  • THURSDAY 29 FEBRUARY—Debate on Welsh Affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
  • FRIDAY 1 MARCH—Private Members' Bills.
  • MONDAY 4 MARCH—Second Reading of the Community Care (Direct Payments) Bill [Lords], probably followed by other Government business.
On Tuesday 5 March and Wednesday 6 March, I expect to take Government legislation and to provide Opposition time. On Thursday 7 March, I hope to have a debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. On Friday 8 March, the business will be private Members' Bills.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 28 February to consider the Official Journal No. OJ C303 of 14 November 1995, relating to the European Court of Auditors' annual report for the financial year 1994, together with the replies from the institutions, and the Official Journal No. OJ C352 of 30 December 1995, relating to the European Court of Auditors' statements of assurance for the financial year 1994.

[Wednesday 28 February:

European Standing Committee B—Relevant Community Documents: (a) OJ C303, Court of Auditors' Report for 1994; (b) OJ C352, Court of Auditors' Statement of Assurance 1994. Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports: (a) HC 51-vi (1995–96); (b) HC 51-x (1995–96).

Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Reports—Relevant documents: Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order; Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order; Local Government Finance (Scotland) Notional Amounts Report.]

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Ban)

I am the first to admit that it is possible for the House to engage in momentous debates on motions for the Adjournment. Indeed, it is on record that the Chamberlain Government were brought down on such a motion. Adjournment motions are not to be dismissed out of hand. Why, however, are the Government not inviting the House to agree with their view on the Scott report? Without a motion of that kind, they will be unable to claim at any time in the future that the House of Commons made a decision to agree with the report. It is almost the equivalent of parliamentary cowardice not to table a motion on which the House could divide.

Given the seriousness of the matter, it would be useful to know on Monday whether the Prime Minister has issued a writ against last Sunday's edition of The Observer, which accused him of lying in respect of the Scott report.

It would also be useful to hear a statement next week from the Minister for Industry and Energy about the Government's intentions in respect of nuclear privatisation—preferably with a view to its being scrapped. Yesterday, the Minister told the world that the Government had received an "indirect approach" from the American company Duke Power, whose safety record on nuclear reactors is being questioned in the United States. The Minister should make a statement explaining how United Kingdom nuclear regulators with no experience of regulating safety in a profit-motivated nuclear industry can protect the safety of United Kingdom citizens and communities.

May we also have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the special rules that govern the tax treatment of foreign nationals? Why should members of middle eastern royal families, companies that front for overseas Governments—such as the Kuwait Investment Office—and now the chair of British Gas be treated differently from millions of United Kingdom citizens who are prepared to put their shoulders to the British wheel and pay their fair share?

It has been widely reported that the Millennium Commission, chaired by the Secretary of State for National Heritage, has already decided in principle to award the millennium exhibition to London rather than the west midlands. Given that the award will represent the largest tranche of lottery cash, and that the Secretary of State is on record as referring to "committing public funds", should not the decision be announced in the House rather than at a press conference? It was made behind closed doors, with all the usual hurrying and scurrying; none of the participants could put their case to the public.

I give due notice that we shall be asking my next question until we receive an answer. Will the Government be moving the writ for the by-election in South-East Staffordshire next week? The delay is unacceptable. I do not want to hear about conventions relating to a certain number of weeks; we are ready to go. The people of South-East Staffordshire deserve a voice to put their case in the House of Commons, wherever that voice may come from.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has spoken with characteristic vigour. [Interruption.] I did not think that he was aggressive; he merely spoke with characteristic vigour. I shall reply with—I hope—characteristic emollience to his questions, although in many instances I have little to add to what I have said before. That certainly applies to the South-East Staffordshire by-election writ, and, indeed, to Monday's debate, on which I shall not seek to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said only about an hour and a quarter ago.

On nuclear privatisation, safety is and will remain paramount in any arrangements. The Health and Safety Executive has confirmed that there will be no reduction in nuclear safety as a result of privatisation. On the points that I took to be principally related to British Gas, rather than the other matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred, Mr. Giordano' s pay package is, of course, a matter for the shareholders.

I shall bring the point about the Millennium Commission to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage, who will be answering questions on Monday 4 March.

Mr. John Biffen (North Shropshire)

On Monday's business, has my right hon. Friend been approached by the official Opposition about the offer of an Opposition day to match the Adjournment debate, the motion for which would be amendable, which would consequently enable a two-day debate on Scott and therefore validate the sincerity of their protestations?

Mr. Newton

No, I regret that I have not.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Given that only this afternoon Sir Richard Scott wrote to the President of the Board of Trade to say that he considered that Ministers were wrongly and selectivity misquoting what he has said at press conferences about his report, and that also this afternoon the Prime Minister said that the Government would be bringing forward substantive changes as a result of the report's conclusions, is it not slightly ludicrous that the Government are hiding behind the procedural device of an Adjournment motion, rather than arranging a substantive motion that could be amended and on which the House could vote on Monday?

Mr. Newton

No, I do not think that it is ludicrous that the Government have thought it right to have a debate on the motion for the Adjournment, partly because although various different individual aspects of the Scott report have been focused on, it is a hugely wide-ranging report and contains many recommendations on issues such as export licensing control, the future use of public interest immunity certificates and other matters. Such a wide-ranging report demands the wide-ranging debate for which we have provided.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

On the millennium exhibition, which was raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no doubt that the announcement on its location will be made next week? Is he also aware of the concern, especially in the midlands, about the decision-making process that appears to be behind that decision? At the very least, we expect that a statement will be made at the Dispatch Box by the Secretary of State for National Heritage on the day of the decision.

Mr. Newton

Of course, I understand that there is concern in both the areas that have been the subject of speculation. I shall draw the representations of my right hon. Friend to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as I will those of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker).

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Following the previous question, is the Leader of the House aware that many people in the west midlands consider that they have been treated shabbily in the past? If my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is right that a decision has been made and that it is not in favour of the west midlands, dissatisfaction in the region will only increase. Will there be a statement? If—as I understand it—no decision has yet been taken, will the Leader of the House ensure that the feelings of west midlands people and all hon. Members who have the honour to represent west midlands constituencies are fully taken into account?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot add to what I have said twice. I shall ensure that his comments are also brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Sir Michael Spicer (South Worcestershire)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a good deal of interest across the country in the Government's review of Government research establishments? Could we have a debate on the subject before the Government take a final decision on what could be very important for a number of hon. Members?

Mr. Newton

I am aware that there is a great deal of interest in the matter and I shall bear my hon. Friend's request in mind.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Leader of the House will know that, in the House's lottery, my question dealing with the further democratisation of Northern Ireland and the use of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee was not called in Northern Ireland questions. Will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland share his thoughts with us on the matter or at least follow the practice of the Secretary of State for Wales, who I understand has been inviting Members who represent Welsh constituencies to meet him to discuss how they might go down the road with such matters in Wales?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has made representations on those matters in recent weeks; I do not think that I can add in general terms to what I have said. Two or three weeks ago, he asked me about the possibility of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee meeting to discuss hospital provision in Northern Ireland. We would be willing for the Committee to hold a debate on the draft "Regional Strategy for Health and Social Well-Being", which the Department of Health and Social Services published for consultation last year. If that happens, it may be best if the debate takes place in the next few weeks, so that any comments can be considered before the strategy is published in final form.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Will the Government make time available so that we can debate the growing powers of the European Courts and how parliamentary sovereignty could be reasserted?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise to make time available for such a debate in the near future. However, my right hon. Friend will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in Prime Minister's Question Time in respect of the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Leader of the House aware that if he does not get on with moving the writ for the by-election in South-East Staffordshire, somebody from the Opposition Back Benches might well do it? I have had some practice because I have moved two writs already. It is high time that the people in the area had a chance to take part in that democratic test.

It was announced yesterday that Coalite would have to pay a fine of £150,000 plus £200,000 costs. In view of the fact that Ministers have said for six years that the polluter must pay, will Coalite ensure that everyone in the Bolsover area who has been affected gets due compensation? Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is, at long last, a public inquiry, initiated by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the relevant Minister? Will he tell the Tory quango, Derbyshire health authority, to conduct a comprehensive review into the effects of dioxin in the Bolsover area and into the direct connection with all forms of cancer, so that the people in the area can feel safer, now that Coalite has pleaded guilty after six years?

Mr. Newton

I am sure that those responsible will have noted the first half of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. On the second half, I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would commend Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution for the diligent way in which it investigated and pursued the case. Leaving that aside for the moment, I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of both Environment and Agriculture Ministers, who are here to answer questions next week.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on proposals for a British academy of sport? Is he aware that last year, I asked the university of Sussex and the university of Brighton to take the lead on a proposal to develop such an academy in Sussex, where there is ideal potential? A preliminary paper has now been submitted to the Department of National Heritage. Is it not a project of which not only Sussex, but the whole nation could be proud?

Mr. Newton

I am sure that the project is worth while and will be studied with proper care by the Department of National Heritage. Sport is always a good subject for a debate and I shall bear my hon. Friend's suggestion in mind, although my recollection is that we had a day's debate on sport on a Friday at the back end of last year.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

Given that our proceedings are broadcast and that we all have a responsibility—perhaps the responsibility of the Leader of the House has a special one—to ensure that our proceedings are intelligible and understood by millions of people across the country, can the right hon. Gentleman explain in two simple sentences the relationship between a debate on arms sales to Iraq and a motion, tabled by the Government, That this House do now adjourn?

Mr. Newton

I have already explained that the report is wide ranging and goes into some very important issues, which the Government have undertaken to consider, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirmed earlier this afternoon. A debate on the Adjournment seems the best way in which to provide for a debate on such a wide-ranging report.

Mr. David Porter (Waveney)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the severe battering that the coast of Suffolk and Norfolk received this week. We have seen lives at risk, houses at risk and the Broads at risk. Will he arrange for a debate next week on coastal protection, sea defences and flood prevention? Although the worst of the winter may be over, we still face the risk of surge tides in the North sea in the spring.

Mr. Newton

I have already made the point that the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who have particular responsibility for those matters, are here to answer questions next week. I will, of course, bear in mind the request for a debate. I come from an east coast town that was significantly flooded, during my boyhood, in the North sea disaster of 1952 so I am, of course, aware of the concerns about those matters on the east coast.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)

May we have an early debate next week on open access to televising major sporting events, especially given the recent announcement by Sky television of a pay-as-you-view scheme for the Bruno-Tyson fight on 17 March? Many of us view that as the thin end of the wedge, which will ultimately allow major sporting events to be seen only by those who can afford to pay for them directly.

Mr. Newton

It will be within the hon. Gentleman's observation that there has already been some debate on those matters in another place. I anticipate that the Broadcasting Bill will arrive here in due course and it will provide ample opportunity for debate.

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 436, which has been signed by 35 Labour Members, including two Lancashire Labour Members?

[That this House deplores the continuing oppression of the people of East Timor by the Government of Indonesia; recalls that one-third of the people of East Timor have been killed in the twenty years since its illegal annexation; is appalled at the fact that the United Kingdom Government has sanctioned the sale of British Aerospace Hawk aircraft to the Indonesian Government despite the fact that such aircraft have been used to attack the people of East Timor; and demands that the delivery of Hawk jets and other weapons to Indonesia be cancelled until a full enquiry on the lines of that conducted by Lord Justice Scott into the Arms to Iraq affair has investigated the role of the British Government in allowing such sales.]

The motion calls for a new Scott inquiry into the sale of British Aerospace Hawk aircraft to Indonesia.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is absolutely no evidence that British Aerospace Hawk aircraft have been used in attacks on civilians in East Timor? However, there is plenty of evidence that British Aerospace employs thousands of people in Lancashire. Is not it now clear that the original Scott inquiry and what we are now seeing are just the tip of the iceberg, and that Labour's real agenda is to attack the defence industry and defence exports? Can we have a debate on the matter, so that we can expose the threat that the Labour party poses to defence industry jobs in Lancashire?

Mr. Newton

It may be that my hon. Friend, if he catches your eye, Madam Speaker, will find it possible to make such a point in Monday's debate. I simply confirm that the export licence for Hawk was granted only after assurances from the Indonesian Government that the aircraft would not be used for internal security and a rigorous examination of the application against the usual criteria.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 423?

[That this House notes the EU Driving Licence Directive which comes into force on 1st July 1996 and provides new more rigorous eyesight regulations for LGV drivers, which the Department of Transport estimates will fail to be met by about 3000 current drivers; while accepting that road safety is paramount, is concerned that the employment of these drivers will be threatened; and calls on the Government to consult with employers and unions with a view to helping with re-training or where necessary a compensation package.]

The motion deals with the new regulations on eyesight tests for heavy goods vehicle drivers. Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that there is considerable concern about the issue throughout the country and that the regulations could result in many of our most experienced and safest drivers being put off the road? Can we have an early debate on the matter?

Mr. Newton

My understanding is that the new regulations are, in almost all respects, very similar to those already applied in the United Kingdom, although a small number of existing drivers may lose their entitlement to drive lorries and buses when their current licences expire. Although I do not dismiss that point, I think that some press reports have given an exaggerated picture of the impact of the changes and have caused unnecessary alarm.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

May I urge my right hon. Friend to allow an early debate on the operation of the European convention on human rights? Now that the Prime Minister has said that there are defects in the way in which it works, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government explain to the House what, if any, disadvantage would be suffered by the United Kingdom if we were no longer a signatory to that convention?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend is joining my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) in his request. Although I cannot add to what I said in response to the earlier question, I shall ensure that attention is drawn to my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Although my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) and I suspect that the Scottish Office are as surprised and dismayed as we are about the pay-off of 700 men at the highly technologically advanced Cummins factory at Shotts, could there none the less be a statement about what the British Government and the Scottish Office have said to the American owners about the decision, which will create havoc among a highly skilled and very loyal work force?

Mr. Newton

I well understand how disappointing the news has been for the work force in Shotts, which has, I know, been well regarded by the company. The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that Scottish Office Ministers tried to persuade the company to change its mind. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland met the local Member, the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), this morning. The hon. Gentleman may wish to know, if he does not know already, that Ministers have arranged to meet the company management tomorrow.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

May I support the call for a debate on the European Court of Human Rights, because it seems that that institution is losing sight of the high ideals that led to its establishment soon after the last war, not least by this country? It seems intent on producing rulings that let loose young murderers and pay the expenses of IRA bombers.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend can manifestly add, and has added, his voice to the representations that have already been made. I shall draw his comments to the attention of those concerned.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Has the Leader of the House been moved, as I have, by the search of Chief Gcaleka from the Transkei, who is seeking the head of the last Xhosa king, Hintsa, which, I understand, was blown off by a British Army officer in 1835? That is a whole new concept of head hunting. There are several such macabre relics in British museums and institutions. We should have a debate on the matter, because they are sad tokens. It is barbaric for us to retain them when a country wants them to be repatriated.

Mr. Newton

As the hon. Gentleman went from a light-hearted mode to a more serious one, I shall make sure that those points are drawn to the appropriate Minister's attention. Until he became more serious, I had been tempted to say that if he would offer me his head on a plate, I would allow a debate.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

May we have an early debate on the future of the local government ombudsman service? I believe that only two hon. Members, of whom I was one, submitted evidence to the recent inquiry. I am horrified by the suggestion that the service might be done away with or reconstituted so that local people have to go via a councillor. Many hon. Members believe that such an arrangement would be much too cosy with council officers. We regard the local ombudsman service as an independent arbiter in matters that can generate considerable heat locally.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that there will be much sympathy with that. In the first half of his question, my hon. Friend confirmed—not to my surprise—what an assiduous Member he is.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Is not it urgent that we discuss the perverse results of the habitual residence test, which was approved by the House on the basis that it was designed to stop abuses by foreign nationals of our social security system? Now, 8,000 British citizens have been denied all benefits, even on the basis of hardship, because of the operation of the rule. Four of them are my constituents, who have paid into national insurance and tax schemes for many years. That was not what the House intended.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman, who is an assiduous attender at business questions, will probably recall that I was asked about that very matter by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) last week. I refer him to the answer that I gave her.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May I support the calls for a debate on the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights? I have already had strong objections from my constituents to the possibility of decisions on the future of, say, the murderers of Jamie Bulger and Myra Hindley being taken somewhere other than where they should be taken—that is, in this country and by our Home Office.

Mr. Newton

I shall pass on those comments, but cannot add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister's questions.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the road programme, with particular reference to the western orbital route, a much-criticised road proposal that adversely affects my constituency? That would be an opportunity both to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on postponing the road proposal and to encourage him to take the further step of striking it out from the programme completely.

Mr. Newton

I shall bring those representations to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

May I add my voice to the calls for an early statement on the siting of the millennium exhibition? Many people believe that it should, like the Festival of Britain, be in London, which has by far the best tourist infrastructure, transport, theatres and hotels and, as the capital city, is the obvious site.

Mr. Newton

It is just as well that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who was sitting immediately in front of my hon. Friend, has had to leave the Chamber, but I shall add those representations to the others that I need to pass on.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

May we have a debate on the repercussions for the economy of the north-west, especially in Lancashire, which would follow if we were to carry out the recommendations of early-day motions 436 and 413 relating to the export of arms to Indonesia?

[That this House condemns the continued denial of the rights of the people of East Timor by the Indonesian government; notes with concern the fact that, in spite of 10 UN resolutions over the past 20 years, Her Majesty's Government continues to support the genocidal actions of the Suharto regime including by the morally and legally reprehensible provision of export licences allowing British Aerospace to sell Hawk jets to Indonesia; believes that the Scott Inquiry team should be asked to investigate the role of the British Government in allowing sales which are contrary to international and national guidelines; and finally calls for the immediate cancellation of the delivery of the Hawk jets and all other weapons to Indonesia until such inquiry has taken place.]

I refer not only to the jobs of people who work at British Aerospace at Warton and Samlesbury in my constituency, a highly skilled work force of which I am proud, but to those at several smaller contractors that supply British Aerospace. The only people who would rub their hands if we were to cancel the Hawk order and other defence contracts with Indonesia would be the manufacturing industries of France, Germany, Italy and other countries that would benefit.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend, like my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson), makes an important point, which I hope will be reflected upon by the Opposition.