§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)
Yes, Madam. The business for next week will be as follows:
MONDAY 22 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Nursery Education and Grant-maintained Schools Bill.
TUESDAY 23 JANuARY—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill (First Day).
Motion relating to the Social Security (Persons from Abroad) Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations.
WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY—Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Opposition Day (2nd Allotted Day). There will be a debate on the state of the national health service, on an Opposition motion.
THURSDAY 25 JANUARY—Until about 7 o'clock, completion of consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.
Remaining stages of the Health Service Commissioners (Amendment) Bill.
FRIDAY 26 JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.
MONDAY 29 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Housing Bill.
I am not yet able to give definite details for Tuesday 30 January or Wednesday 31 January. One of them is likely to be Government business and the other an Opposition Day. On Thursday 1 February, I expect a debate on the Royal Navy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Friday 2 February will be Private Members' Bills.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I thank the Leader of the House for that information.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Social Security (Persons from Abroad) Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations will be debated on Tuesday. Will he confirm that those regulations could be debated at a very late hour? The House felt that it was being bounced when those regulations were originally produced, and departmental mistakes occurred. In view of those difficulties, would it not have been better to guarantee that those regulations would be debated at a more civilised hour than might happen next Tuesday?
I notice that the Leader of the House has not taken up the fact that the Secretary of State for Transport said on Monday that he would welcome a debate on rail privatisation. As Ministers have acknowledged that they have a technical ability to sell off Railtrack but no direct approval or authority from this House to do so, would it not be right to seek such approval from this House before proceeding any further? In view of the Secretary of State's comments to the effect that he would welcome such a debate, will the right hon. Gentleman provide for a debate on the privatisation of Railtrack in Government time?
Is the Leader of the House aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has taken the rare step of writing to the Cabinet Secretary expressing 884 his grave concern about the lack of distinction between the political and ministerial roles of the Secretary of State for Scotland, against the background of some recent events? Yesterday, the Scottish Office was amending its own press release because of confusion about the political content of a speech by the Secretary of State. Subsequently, a Scottish Office official was required to make an apology.
Given the sensitivity of such matters and the fact that we are in the run-up to a general election, may we have a debate on the confusion surrounding this issue—in particular, on the fact that Ministers may be abusing the rules by seeking to use civil servants for party political purposes?
Finally, the Leader of the House will remember that, last week, I raised with him the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee on European Legislation that five directives be debated together on the Floor of the House. Can he update us on his proposals for debating these issues, which include economic and monetary union, convergence and social protection? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept in principle that there must be proper opportunity for the views of this House to be registered before Ministers participate in intergovernmental conference discussions?
§ Mr. Newton
I shall take those questions in reverse order. I have always made it clear that I—and the whole Government—accept the need for opportunities to be provided for Parliament's views to be expressed before European negotiations. That will continue to be our attitude. I am not yet in a position to give the hon. Lady a considered answer to the point about the five directives, to which she has once again referred.
As for the issue raised by the hon. Members for Hamilton and for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond): I am aware that the former has written to the Cabinet Secretary. I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary will seek to reply as quickly as he properly can.
As the hon. Lady virtually acknowledged, it is clear that what happened yesterday was a straightforward error on the part of Scottish Office civil servants. It resulted in some political material from my right hon. Friend's speech appearing in a Government press release. My right hon. Friend made it quite clear yesterday that he expects the Scottish Office information directorate to operate strictly in accordance with the appropriate guidance, and he has every confidence that it will do so; and that when, as happens very occasionally—and did happen on this occasion—a mistake occurs, it will be corrected.
There was extensive debate on Railtrack's privatisation during the passage of the primary legislation that created the powers which the Government now have to privatise Railtrack. It seems extraordinary that it should now be suggested that further parliamentary proceedings are required before the Government can proceed with what was agreed by Parliament.
The hon. Lady will recall that I responded—I hope, quite properly—to widespread pressure to make absolutely sure that there was an opportunity for a debate on the asylum regulations before they came into effect, against the background that it is, in the Government's view, urgently necessary to take action. The hon. Lady will also be aware of the need to make progress, for instance, on the Finance Bill. What I have proposed is 885 simply a way of making proper progress on important business such as the Finance Bill, while providing the opportunity that the House rightly expects to debate the asylum regulations.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on national vocational qualifications, so that I can draw to the attention of the House and the wider public the great success of a business in my constituency, Shoefayre, six of whose shop managers were today given NVQ awards by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice)? A number of other businesses in my constituency and across the country would benefit from learning about NVQs, and the training and other qualifications that they can receive. Those schemes have been sponsored by the Government, and the public should know more about them.
§ Mr. Newton
I congratulate the constituents of my hon. and learned Friend on their achievement, and commend his common sense in raising the matter in the way that he has.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
Is the Leader of the House aware that the Ministry of Agriculture appears to be adopting what I can only describe as a back-stairs procedure to introduce the implementation regulations for EU directive 95/29 on the welfare of animals in transit, which is exceedingly controversial not only in the livestock sector but among other groups such as animal welfare organisations?
The Ministry appears determined to use a method that would avoid the necessity of laying even a statutory instrument before Parliament and prevent any parliamentary discussion whatsoever of these controversial proposals. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that there will be an opportunity for hon. Members to discuss these important proposals?
§ Mr. Newton
I will bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, and will, of course, consider them myself.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I have asked my right hon. Friend previously to provide time for a debate on roads and infrastructure. The Government emphasise the need for the country to be competitive, yet, unfortunately, there has been a fairly dramatic cut in infrastructure expenditure—especially in that on roads. That is causing grave concern to my constituents in all walks of life. I refer particularly to the Alderley Edge bypass, the Poynton bypass, the Disley High Lane bypass and the Manchester airport eastern relief road—the eastern link road, which is so vital to the economic success not only of my constituency but of that of surrounding constituencies.
§ Mr. Newton
If I remember rightly, on the previous occasion that my hon. Friend understandably raised the matter, it transpired that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport was within earshot, and I made the point that he would no doubt consider what my hon. Friend had said. I have no doubt that he is continuing to consider what my hon. Friend has said.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Is the Leader of the House aware of the need for an urgent statement on the Ministry of Defence police? There are clear indications that they are to be replaced with civilian security personnel, who may or may not have adequate training. As this is likely to be an important matter of national security, would he ask Ministers not to treat this as part of a general debate, but to come to the House and make a specific statement on what is happening in relation to the Royal Ordnance factories?
§ Mr. Newton
As the headquarters of the MOD police has moved, in the past couple of years, to RAF Wethersfield, I had better declare some sort of interest. Part of that interest would be to draw the hon. Lady's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)
Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the important subject of the allocation of postcodes, especially as it affects many of my constituents? Is he aware that the inflexibility of management in the Royal Mail means that my constituents are obliged to have Croydon postcodes, which cause them to have higher premiums on insurance policies and other things? They want Sutton postcodes, to accord with the fact that they live in the London borough of Sutton.
§ Mr. Newton
I must confess that I was wholly unaware of this problem until my hon. Friend raised it. I shall therefore make no comment, but refer it to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
Should we not have a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland on what responsibility he is prepared to take for the workings of his Department? Is the Leader of the House aware that many of us find it unsavoury that a civil servant should be forced to take the rap for politics being pursued at the taxpayer's expense, when every Scottish Member of Parliament knows that the Secretary of State is the person responsible for turning his Department into a Ministry of Tory propaganda?
§ Mr. Newton
I cannot add to what I thought were the very reasonable comments and explanation that I gave earlier. However, I reject utterly and out of hand the interpretation that the hon. Gentleman seeks to put on events.
§ Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)
May I support the request by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) that more directives issued by the European Union be debated on the Floor of the House—not least because, as I understand it, they come without sanctions attached or any requirement for enforcement, which is added by our civil service and turns mountains into molehills? Financial penalties and even criminal charges are imposed upon innocent business men going about their usual everyday tasks.
§ Mr. Newton
I note my hon. Friend's remarks in support of the hon. Member for Dewsbury's comments. Many people—particularly those hon. Members who took part in the consideration of immigration matters in 887 Committee before my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary—believe that the procedures for questioning and debate in Committee will prove very valuable for the House.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
Starting next week, can the Government Chief Whip make regular statements informing us exactly how many temporary bodies he has in his team, and how many make the Prime Minister hear white coats flapping?
§ Mr. Newton
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) back into the fold.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate next week on the very important subject of religious and moral education in schools, bearing in mind the call earlier this week for a clear definition in the curriculum for teaching right and wrong, and bearing in mind the seriously bad behaviour of many young and not so young people?
§ Mr. Newton
I have announced the Second Reading of an education Bill for next Monday. It is not for me to say whether comments of that kind could be raised during the debate, but my hon. Friend may like to try to do so. If not, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment will answer questions in the Chamber on Wednesday.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
Madam Speaker, you may remember that, before Christmas, I raised in the House the question of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announcing the extension of the pattern of the Scottish Grand and Welsh Grand Committees to Northern Ireland. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether there have been any developments in that regard since my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and I discussed the matter with the Secretary of State? We are still waiting for an announcement.
§ Mr. Newton
I cannot comment beyond what I remember saying to the hon. Gentleman, in my usual friendly fashion, when he raised the matter previously. However, I have noted—as undoubtedly the hon. Gentleman has—that his hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) has put down a wide-ranging question on related matters to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for next Thursday. No doubt the hon. Gentlemen will be able to pursue those exchanges further at that time.
§ Mr. David Congdon (Croydon, North-East)
Will my right hon. Friend find time in the next few weeks for a debate on local government finance, particularly on the practice of Labour-controlled councils using local council press offices as an arm of party propaganda? That is a disgraceful abuse of taxpayers' money, and I would welcome a debate on the subject.
§ Mr. Newton
I am glad to say that there will be an opportunity for further debate on such matters before too long, as the usual local government finance orders must come before the House in the next month or six weeks.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 288, which refers to the 1,600 jobs that Scottish Courage decided to axe this week.
[That this House is dismayed at the decision taken by Scottish Courage to axe 1,600 jobs nationally; is appalled at the proposal to close the Fountain Head brewery in Halifax with the loss of over two hundred jobs; notes that the productivity per employee at the Halifax brewery is higher than any in the group; and calls upon Scottish Courage to reverse its decision on all these closures.]
Is the Leader of the House aware that more than 200 of those jobs are in my constituency, and that Scottish Courage intends to close the brewery, which is one of the most efficient in its whole operation? Could he make time for an urgent debate about those job losses, and about the fact that Scottish and Newcastle took control of Courage only a few months ago, apparently intending to close down part of the operation?
§ Mr. Newton
I understand the hon. Lady's concern on behalf of her constituency. Equally, she must understand that decisions of that kind are not for the Government to make, but are commercial decisions for the company. However, it may be that she could find a way of raising the matter in the House if she so wished, perhaps on a Wednesday morning—although I see that she has other things on her mind for next Wednesday.
§ Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)
Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate on the plight of my constituents and those of many other right hon. and hon. Members who live near the present route of channel tunnel trains? Is he aware of the distress that is caused to thousands of people as a result of noise and disturbance? Does he agree that a debate would give the Government an opportunity to respond at greater length to the sixth report of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, which examined the allied question of compensation for blight between the years 1990 and 1994?
§ Mr. Newton
I cannot promise to provide an early opportunity for further debate on those matters. They are, of course, apart from anything else, under consideration by the Committee that is considering the private Bill. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will bear in mind my hon. Friend's observations.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
The Leader of the House has no doubt seen my letter to him of 10 January, the subject of which is the abuse of Welsh Question Time. The subject has appeared in early-day motion 256.
[That this House acknowledges that Welsh oral questions provide 40 minutes, once a month, for Welsh Members of Parliament to hold the Secretary of State and fellow Welsh Offices Ministers, answerable for the executive responsibility which they exercise for wide-ranging portfolios in Wales, including employment, health, education, agriculture, local government, housing, planning, tourism and sport, environment, social services, industrial development and the Welsh language; given the limited opportunities for ensuring answerability for Government action in Wales, regards it as totally 889 reprehensible that Tory honourable Members from Wales continuously should set the agenda for answerability by flooding the Order Paper with Oral Questions for that day; notes that for Monday 22nd January, amongst the first 24 names out of the ballot there are 16 honourable Members for English constituencies and only eight for Welsh constituencies; and calls on the Leader of this House to bring forward charges to the Standing Orders of the House to give precedence to Welsh constituency honourable Members for Questions tabled to the Welsh Office for oral answer.]
On Monday next, only six Members will be called who represent Welsh constituencies. Of the first 10 questions on the Order Paper, six will be asked by Members representing constituencies in England. In all, the names 17 Members from England appear on the Order Paper. Surely it is not good enough to have only 45 minutes every four weeks to examine the Executive in Wales. We are faced with an abuse, and we should have time to debate the matter and to amend Standing Orders.
§ Mr. Newton
The hon. Gentleman knows that, in response to such a question I shall say—I will, and it is what I believe—that this is a United Kingdom Parliament. It seems that his remarks imply—I hope that they do—support for the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for enhancing the role of the Welsh Grand Committee. His remarks seem to strengthen the case for that.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
Will my right hon. Friend consider having an early and urgent debate on local government in London? Is he aware that 120 officers of Lambeth council face the sack because they are being accused of corruption and fraud? Does that not underline the fact that, for many, new Labour and old Labour have merely become hard Labour?
§ Mr. Newton
Without attempting to meet the neatness of my hon. Friend's phrase, I would observe that, since the appointment of the new chief executive in 1993 and the change of political control—perhaps what my hon. Friend has said is some reflection—Lambeth at last seems to be taking some steps to put its house in order.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
The Leader of the House will have heard the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) about the activities of Scottish and Newcastle. Again, it is an example of a predator company operating in the marketplace and taking over another company without any consideration of local communities, as has happened in the case of Campbell Soups in my constituency. Is it not time that we had a major debate in Government time, so that we can perhaps consider a new framework for takeover policy? Are things not getting quite out of hand?
§ Mr. Newton
I suppose that I can say—yes, I can—that the hon. Gentleman puts his point in a reasonable way. Given the obvious strength of his feeling about such matters, it might well be worth his considering, if he has not already done so, seeking some time on a Wednesday morning.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
May we have a debate next week on stakeholding, which would allow the 890 House to probe the warm word "smokescreen" that is involved, and perhaps consider the measures that would be involved, such as the restoration of trade union powers, the robbing of savers of the income that they derive, joining the ERM, and, above all, interference in the proper management of British companies?
§ Mr. Newton
I do not think that I can improve on the way in which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister responded to a similar question about half an hour ago.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Has the Leader of the House had time to reflect on the views expressed by Lord Howe, the former Deputy Prime Minister, who said in an interview on London Radio earlier this week that he thought that the abolition of the Greater London council was a mistake, and that a voice for London should be restored? May we have a debate on the governance of London? Among other things, we could discuss the possibility of having an elected mayor for London. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] Yes, it is a proposal dear to my heart. It is supported also by the present Deputy Prime Minister and by the right hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor).
§ Mr. Newton
The straightforward answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I have not had time to reflect on the remarks that he attributes to my right hon. and noble Friend. I am tempted to say that I might see some merit in the proposal if it led to what I shall loosely call the translation of the hon. Gentleman from this side of the river back to the other.
§ Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)
Will my right hon. Friend consider providing time for yet another debate on procedures in the House? Is he aware that a Labour Member representing a Glasgow constituency—I cannot name him, because I did not have a chance to mention to him in advance that I would be raising the matter—is starting a campaign on behalf of Muhammad Al-Masari? That campaign will jeopardise not only thousands of jobs in the United Kingdom but money that is going to the Exchequer which could otherwise be spent on education and the health service. He makes the matter worse by using House of Commons postage-paid envelopes. Is that not a disgrace?
§ Mr. Newton
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister commented on this matter on Tuesday, and I would not want to add to what he said.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Does the Leader of the House agree that hardly an hon. Member would not agree with the extension of nursery education for parents who wish it, but that the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill, which we are to debate on Monday, is controversial, particularly in respect of financing, administration, inspection and, indeed, the very definition of nursery education? Has the Leader of the House observed that, despite the usual practice of giving powers to Secretaries of State to make regulations, the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to make only "arrangements"? Can he let us know before that debate whether this has precedent, and, if so, where?
§ Mr. Newton
This is very much a point that should be raised in the Second Reading debate on Monday, and no doubt it will be. I am sure that it will be helpful to my right hon. Friend to have advance notice of it.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien (North Warwickshire)
May we have an urgent debate on the operation of the Official Secrets Act 1911, which seems on occasion to deny courts evidence that they should properly have, and citizens access to justice? I use as an example my constituent, Mr. John Dennis, of Bedworth, who is in a coma. His family are seeking to interview a former lieutenant colonel in the Army who controlled ambulances during the ambulance strike, and they have been told that it would breach the Official Secrets Act to do so. That seems to me to be a denial of justice, which we cannot properly sustain. The House should debate the Act.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
Will the Leader of the House read and perhaps discuss with his ministerial colleagues early-day motion 275, which is about the chief medical officer and Parliament?
[That this House, whilst understanding the long-standing convention of the House that honourable Members are unable to table parliamentary questions on the internal working of government, considers that it has been extended unreasonably by not allowing honourable Members to obtain the view of the Chief Medical Officer on important public health issues of the day by asking parliamentary questions; considers that the Chief Medical Officer has wider responsibilities to the public than other civil servants; and therefore asks in the interests of public health and open government that the Government remove the block on parliamentary questions relating to the expert opinions of the Chief Medical Officer.]
Is it not appalling that hon. Members cannot get the clear opinion of the chief medical officer on public health matters without it being filtered through a Minister—or perhaps denied by a Minister? As the chief medical officer has wider responsibilities than other civil servants in relation to public health matters, should there not be a clear line to hon. Members who want his opinion?
§ Mr. Newton
The code of practice on access to Government information confirmed that the advice that the chief medical officer provides to Ministers to assist in the development of their policies is confidential. As far as I am aware, there is nothing new in that, and that is very much the position with advice that is provided to or within Government, including that of the Law Officers.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
In order to dampen down the speculation fever regarding the Tory 892 leadership and the Prime Minister's position, would it not be appropriate for the Deputy Prime Minister to make a statement to the House next week, to make it clear that under no circumstances will he do to the Prime Minister what he did to Lady Thatcher in 1990?
§ Mr. Newton
I noted my right hon. Friend's comments at Prime Minister's questions, as no doubt did the hon. Gentleman. I can only say that there is no need to dampen down a fire that has never been started.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
May we have a debate on transport, so that we can congratulate hon. Members on the remarkable change that has taken place in our car park? Last January, 26 vehicles in the car park were fitted with bull bars: this week, there has been none. May we also discuss early-day motion 1?
[That this House supports Bristol Coroner Paul Forrest's call of 14th November 1995 for a ban on bull bars at the inquest on Helen Baggs aged 10 of Melksham who was killed by a Land Rover fitted with bull bars; believes that many deaths and serious injuries would have been avoided if the Government and the European Commission had swiftly acted to ban bull bar fashion accessories that concentrate and multiply the force of collisions at the level of a child's head.]
At the same time, we should consider the debate yesterday afternoon in the other place led by the Earl of Kinnoul when it was made clear that Britain can take unilateral action to ban bull bars, but we are waiting for the European Community. Sadly, it is clear that the European Community will not act for at least two years. Why do we not take action now, to prevent future avoidable tragedies?
§ Mr. Newton
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should put his point in that way, as he well knows that the Commissioner responsible for such matters is the former leader of the Labour party. I suggest that he addresses his representations to him.
§ Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)
In view of the Prime Minister's comments at the conclusion of Question Time, that Ministers would not seek to influence the choice of venue for the millennium exhibition, will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage to make a statement on the millennium to the House? Many of us in the west midlands find it rather surprising that, although the creative team appointed to run the millennium events recommends the national exhibition centre in Birmingham, it is being asked to consider another venue. The House would like reassurance that Ministers do not see the world as ending at Watford.
§ Mr. Newton
I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that Ministers do not see the world as ending at Watford. We see this as a United Kingdom. For the rest, I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's request to the attention of my right hon. Friend.