HC Deb 18 July 1996 vol 281 cc1301-12 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 22 JULY—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Housing Bill.

TUESDAY 23 JULY—Opposition Day [20th allotted day]. Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on the future of the welfare state, followed by a debate on the role of the voluntary sector in British society. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Broadcasting Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 24 JULY—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House, the first of which is the three-hour general debate that precedes a recess.

Proceedings on the following Bills, which are consolidation measures: Education Bill [Lords]; School Inspections Bill [Lords]; Deer (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

Debate on the accelerated slaughter programme, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion relating to the draft code of conduct for Members.

Motion on the Central Railway Order.

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

The House will also wish to know that, on Tuesday 23 July, there will be a debate on documents relating to the common fisheries policy in European Standing Committee A.

Subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the summer Adjournment on Wednesday 24 July, until Monday 14 October.

The provisional business for the first week back after the summer Adjournment will be as follows: MONDAY 14 OCTOBER AND TUESDAY 15 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on a Government motion to approve the defence estimates 1996 (Cm 3223).

WEDNESDAY 16 OCTOBER—Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Debate on a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee, to which the Government have replied.

It will also be proposed that, on Tuesday 15 October, there will be a debate on the Merger Regulation in European Standing Committee B.

Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report. [Tuesday 23 July: European Standing Committee A—European Community Documents: a) 7833/96; Common Fisheries Policy: Multi-Annual Guidance Programme (MAGP IV). b) Unnumbered; Common Fisheries Policy: Restructuring of the Community Fleet. c) Unnumbered; Conservation of Fishery Resources: Technical measures. d) Unnumbered; Fisheries Agreement: Mauritania. e) Unnumbered; Fisheries Agreement: Angola. f) Unnumbered; Fisheries Agreement: Sao Tomé e Principe. g) Unnumbered; Annual Report on Multiannual Guidance Programme for the Fishing Fleet at the end of 1995 (MAGP III). h) 7701/96; Common Fisheries Policy: Satellite-Based Vessel Monitoring System. Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports a) to g) HC 51-xxv (1995–96). h) HC 51-xxiii (1995–96). Tuesday 15 October: European Standing Committee B—European Community Document: Unnumbered; The Merger Regulation. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report HC 51-xxvi (1995–96).]

The House will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business in the period after the recess, the House will meet for prorogation on Thursday 17 October. The new session will be opened on Wednesday 23 October. As I have already announced, the Budget will be on Tuesday 26 November.

Mrs. Taylor

May I thank the Leader of the House for that response, including the long-term information that he has given? May I also thank him for finding time for a debate next Wednesday on the code of conduct, as that will be of assistance to the House?

The Leader of the House has announced that there will be an Adjournment debate on Wednesday on BSE. Will he confirm that the Government intend that that should be a time-limited debate, and will he tell us whether that limit is an hour and a half? Will he ensure that the Minister opening the debate spells out at the beginning the implications for British farmers—and, in turn, for the European bank—of the failure on the part of the Government to lay the BSE orders on slaughter and compensation?

Many people, both inside and outside this House, will not think that a general debate of an hour and a half is an adequate substitute for the action that was promised. What has happened to the orders, as it was clear that they were to be laid and were to come into effect before the deadline agreed with the EU of 1 August this year?

It is always difficult to ask for extra debates so close to the recess, and I do not intend to do so. But it is right to ask for a clear statement about the decisions that may or may not have been made by the Government on MOD procurement. Can we have a statement on the progress of the £4 billion-worth of important defence procurement orders that are currently being considered by the Government?

There is very real concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House and among people throughout the country that those orders, which the Government have determined are vital to Britain's security, are being repeatedly postponed. Is that not jeopardising tens of thousands of British jobs in the defence interests, and damaging the interests of the armed forces? Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer intend to postpone defence orders until next year's public expenditure round? If so, will that not cause great uncertainty for the defence industry and for the services? This is an urgent matter, and Parliament should be told of the Government's intentions.

Finally, there is one issue of concern at the end of the Session that is uniting hon. Members as very few do. That issue is the future of the BBC World Service.

Is the Leader of the House aware of the evidence that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office gave to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs this morning? That evidence clearly shows not only that the BBC has been at fault because it has not consulted properly on the matter, but that Ministers have allowed the situation to drift.

Does the Leader of the House agree that, although politicians should not interfere in the day-to-day operational decisions of the BBC, the question of the future of the World Service is no mere operational matter? As the Foreign Secretary will meet the chairman of the BBC governors next Wednesday, which may be too late for any statement to the House, will the Leader of the House assure us that Parliament will have an opportunity to have an input into that vital decision, and that no final decision on the future of the World Service will be taken until Parliament has had the chance to have a say, even if that is after the recess?

Mr. Newton

I shall take those points in reverse order. I certainly accept that the future of the World Service, which is held in such high regard not only in this country but around the world, is not simply an operational matter, although operational issues are also involved. For that reason, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, as the hon. Lady has already mentioned, intends to have discussions with the chairman of the BBC next week, and he has made it clear that he will want to be satisfied that any changes meet our concerns. I shall bring the hon. Lady's comments in the latter part of her question to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention.

On the subject of defence equipment contracts, a decision will be announced as soon as the assessment of the various bids has been completed. It is hoped that it will be possible to make announcements before too long, but the programmes are large and complex, and a wide range of factors must be considered.

I can confirm that I intend that the debate on the accelerated slaughter programme should last for one and a half hours. The purpose is to enable the Minister to report on the situation, as I think the House would expect, before the recess, but, if the hon. Lady followed the exchanges that took place during Agriculture questions, she will know my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture made it clear that compulsory slaughter will not take place until the House has had an opportunity to debate the order.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her kind words about the debate that I have announced on the draft code of conduct for Members, and, once again, I thank her for the contribution that she has made to the preparation of that code. I also thank her for her kind words about the advance information I have been able to give about key dates for people's diaries.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

As the confusing and worrying statement by the American authorities yesterday about global warming has created a reaction in some of our constituencies that varies from panic to indifference, would it not be helpful if a Minister could make a statement next week about the exact nature of the problem of global warming and what can be done? That would help us all, because the issue worries many people.

Mr. Newton

My impression is that a wide variety of information is available on the subject, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has put much effort into those matters for a long time. I will bring my hon. Friend's specific query to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

The announcement of forward business is welcome. It seems to me that we will nearly complete business before the summer, and perhaps the Leader of the House will soon be able to go a step further and give fixed dates for the start of the parliamentary year, instead of the nonsense of a three-day spillover, followed by a week off, after which we start all over again.

The Leader of the House has announced the general accelerated slaughter debate next Wednesday. That is welcome, but can he tell us whether we will definitely debate the order during the spillover, whether all the aspects of the scheme will be in the order and be debatable—including compensation—and whether the House will be able to make a decision on the matter, so that the ban can be lifted by the Government's self-imposed deadline of the beginning of November?

Mr. Newton

As I said, those matters were pretty extensively covered in Agriculture questions. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was here, but I followed them from afar, although not very far afar. I am not in a position to add to what my right hon. and learned Friend said or to what I said a moment or two ago, but the debate on Wednesday will provide an opportunity for the Minister to set things out more fully.

Sir Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

What form will the debate on the draft code of conduct take? Will it be on a motion under which the House is expected to approve the code in toto, or will there be an opportunity to table amendments?

Mr. Newton

The debate will take place on a motion inviting the House to approve the code and the guidelines, and, like other such motions, it will be open to amendment. Whether those amendments are selected is a matter for higher powers than me.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Does the Leader of the House recollect that it was Sir Richard Scott's view, in paragraphs D4.40, D4.42, D6.69 and F4.68 of his report, that, if questions from me on the detail of Lear Fan and Colchester Lathes had been properly and truthfully answered, the whole course of events would have been very different? Therefore, I ask him, why on earth has he put on today's Order Paper "Notice of Motion for an Unopposed Return" in the name of the President of the Board of Trade, "Export of Defence Equipment and Dual Use Goods to Iraq"? Is that about cover for legal challenge, and if so, cover for legal challenge from whom?

Mr. Newton

As the hon. Gentleman says, the motion was placed on the Order Paper by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and it certainly is connected with the fact that today, what I understand are about 20,000 pages of documentation following on from the Scott committee report are being published in CD-ROM form. I will bring the question to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

May we have a debate on the planning system as it relates to the accelerated culling programme, and specifically the provision of incinerator plants, so that I can raise with the House the alarm, and despair in many cases, of thousands of my constituents at what are fortunately informal proposals at present to site such an incinerator plant in my constituency at Stourport? Last week, the proposals brought forth a public meeting, attended by 1,000 people, and there will be a further public meeting this weekend, attended by a similar number.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will understand that I would not wish to be drawn into commenting on a specific local planning controversy, but I will ensure that his remarks are brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Today's amazing news is that, of the 1.5 million people who were robbed by the pensions industry by being missold personal pensions and being persuaded to leave their good-quality occupational pensions and the state earnings-related pension scheme, only 7,000 have been offered any recompense, because of the wicked obstructionist tactics by the pensions industry.

How can anyone propose to privatise more pensions when we know that the story is that private pensions provide very poor value, and that the pensions provided by the state earnings-related pension scheme and national insurance are well run and highly efficient, and provide splendid value?

Mr. Newton

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point about personal pensions, which is a wild generalisation, but I have no wish to enter into an altercation with him. The Government do support the Securities and Investments Board's initiative to secure redress for the relatively small number—

Mr. Flynn

One and a half million.

Mr. Newton

Relatively small in comparison with the number of people who have personal pensions. That is the point that the hon. Gentleman does not acknowledge.

The Government support the SIB's initiative to secure redress for the relatively small number of people who stand to lose as a result of the misselling of personal pensions, and we and the regulators are working together to remove the difficulties. We certainly intend that anyone who is found to have lost financially because of misselling will get redress, and that anyone who wants their case reviewed can have it reviewed.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye)

What opportunities will there be for a debate about the management of budgets by local authorities such as East Sussex, so that we can advise them how to live within their more than generous budgets?

Mr. Newton

I cannot immediately think of an opportunity for my hon. Friend, but if she were to appear on Wednesday morning, she might be able to put the point to me then. I shall then see whether I have a better answer than I have now.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does the Leader of the House accept that two reasons in particular would justify recalling Parliament during the long summer recess: first, Northern Ireland, where certain developments could clearly take place; and, secondly, public spending cuts? Will he pledge that, in those circumstances, he would seriously consider a request for the House to return?

Mr. Newton

The Government have shown several times in recent years that, if we judge it necessary to recall the House, the House is recalled. The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to speculate about possible circumstances now. I find his reference to public expenditure a little odd, because the public expenditure round does not conclude until well after the House returns from the recess.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that those of us whose constituencies have a substantial dairy industry are concerned that next week's debate on the selective cull is too short—just one and a half hours? Many of us want to tell the House how seriously our dairy farmers take the selective cull, and about the damaging impact that it will have on the rural economy for a long time.

On the question raised by the shadow Leader of the House on defence procurement, will my right hon. Friend assure me that those of us who are deeply interested in that matter—Avro International is on the periphery of my constituency—and concerned about the Nimrod 2000 package, will be advised as soon as a decision is made? I see that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement is on the Front Bench.

Mr. Newton

I note both my hon. Friend's points. I assure him that his request to the Ministry of Defence has already been heard.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) about the Ministry of Defence contracts, will the Leader of the House tell the Secretary of State for Defence that my constituents are extremely anxious about the replacement of the maritime patrol aircraft and the continuing delays? Will an announcement be made before the recess so that Members of Parliament concerned about that matter may have a chance to respond to those decisions?

Mr. Newton

I am beginning to think that it might be appropriate if my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement took my place in answering those questions. At any rate, he has clearly heard the questions.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, on Wednesday, I shall present a ten-minute Bill called the Union Flag Bill to promote the flying of the Union Jack. May we have time for a debate on devolution, as some of my hon. Friends say that, given Labour's devolution policies, under a Labour Government we would have no British flag left to fly?

Mr. Newton

As I have said before, that would be an excellent subject for debate. I merely note with interest that the Opposition have not considered the subject significant enough to use their Supply day next week to discuss it.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

I recognise that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement cannot take the place of the Leader of the House, but may I again emphasise the importance of the decision that will be taken on defence procurement? Why have members of the media in this House been running round today saying that British Aerospace has been allocated a contract, and that a statement will be made this afternoon, yet, when hon. Members such as myself contacted the Ministry of Defence, we were told that no such information was available?

Exactly what is going on at the Ministry of Defence, and may we have a statement at least tomorrow to try to resolve that problem? The Leader of the House shares my interest in the defence procurement jobs that are available.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady is right on her last point. I have already referred the general thrust of her question to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for De fence Procurement. I am not in a position to explain the behaviour of the press.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this afternoon about the tragedy of the jumbo jet crash earlier today, does my right hon. Friend think that it is appropriate to announce an opportunity to discuss tourism, particularly the impact that aircraft safety has on tourism, as soon as possible—either during the short time that we are back or immediately thereafter?

The United Kingdom is the world leader in aircraft safety. For example, it has recently made enormous strides in developing blast-resistant and blast-absorbing material for cargo holds. Is my right hon. Friend aware that airports in the United Kingdom lead the world in providing facilities for the scrutiny of passengers' luggage, thereby ensuring their security? Does he think that it is appropriate for us to have a debate linked to aircraft security, bearing in mind how long it is since we last had a debate on tourism?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding hon. Members—and, I hope, a wider audience—of some very important points about this country's record on these matters. I think it is obvious that I would not be in a position to arrange such a debate in what I have announced so far. However, I do not spurn the idea, and I will bear it in mind in the new Session.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

I represent many of the workers at British Aerospace in Prestwick and I add my name to those who want an oral statement before the House rises.

This has been a fascinating afternoon—I am glad that I have been in the House. Given all the Royal Assents that were announced earlier by Madam Speaker, the fact that the business to the middle of next week has been announced and the fact that the business for the spillover includes no legislation, will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government have cleared the decks for an October election? Would it not be wise for the Government to say that there will be an early election, which would save Her Majesty and the country the time, the effort and the money of a farce of a Queen's Speech by a lame duck Government that will never be implemented?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made the position on the first matter entirely clear several times. So far as the second point is concerned, while it would be improper for me to reveal to the hon. Gentleman—despite his charm—the content of the Queen's Speech, I assure him that it will be a substantial, worthwhile and important programme.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

Could we have a debate next week to explore the possibility of the non-sector fishing fleet, such as that which operates around the coast of Essex, retaining its track record on decommissioning as the producer organisations currently do? During that debate, we could also explore the possibility of phasing out quota hopping and giving quota exemptions to the smaller boats, particularly those under 8 m. I am delighted that the Government are now well disposed to all these ideas.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's words. While I cannot be absolutely certain that his points will be relevant, I draw his attention to the debate that will take place on documents relating to the common fisheries policy in European Standing Committee A on Tuesday 23 July. I remind the House that any hon. Member can take part in the debates if they wish, but they cannot vote, should that be necessary.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Has the Leader of the House had time to look at the Order Book? If so, has he had time to study early-day motion 1192?

[That this House expresses its concern that the forthcoming franchise specification for the West Coast Main Line may fail to provide for the operation of high speed trains; notes that the modernisation and renewal of the West Coast Main Line will only restore the line to 1970s standards and is already costed and included within the base line Core Programme funded through existing and future track access payments; expresses dismay at the current lack of information about the costs, sources of funding and specification for any upgrade to provide for both high speed passenger and piggy back freight operations; further notes that the tender specification for the franchise is due out in October 1996; and, therefore, urges the Chairman of Railtrack, the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising and the Secretary of State for Transport to use their individual and collective endeavours to deliver an upgraded, high speed West Coast Main Line capable of providing journey times between London and Liverpool/Manchester of two hours and between London and Glasgow of four hours.] The early-day motion is signed by 67 hon. Members. It refers to the upgrading of the west coast main line. Will the Leader of the House allow us to debate this issue next Thursday—I see that Thursday is a clear day? This is important, because a decision will be taken before the House reconvenes in October.

We need a high-speed and reliable line on the west coast, which competes with the line on the east coast. If public money is not put into the scheme, and if there is not a commitment from the Government, we will end up with a low-speed, reliable line, and the west coast of Britain will be disadvantaged. We need trains that will travel from Manchester to London in two hours, from Carlisle to London in three hours and from Glasgow to London in a maximum of four hours. Can we have a debate next Thursday?

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to extend the sitting to a debate next Thursday on that matter, important though it is—I understand why the hon. Gentleman has raised it. Our position is that Railtrack and the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising are working closely together in order to determine the way forward, although quite a lot of work is still to be done. The coming months will be very important in developing the upgrade project to the point where the Government can take a decision. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's concerns.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on arranging a debate on the selective cull to coincide with the shadow Cabinet elections. I ask him also to arrange for an early debate on early-day motion 1185.

[That this House expresses its full support for all those who are now engaged in re-establishing the right, in a free society, of withdrawing their labour in pursuit of their basic rights against unjust managements, and, in particular those postal workers, London tube drivers, Derbyshire firefighters, Merseyside dockers, Hillingdon hospital cleaners, and others; and calls for solidarity with them by all members of the public who depend on the services which working people provide.] Then, on a day when a million Londoners are inconvenienced by the tube strike, I could point out that the hon. Members for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford), for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Bow and Poplar (Ms Gordon) have expressed their support for the strikers and their indifference to the suffering of their constituents.

Mr. Newton

I congratulate my hon. Friend on beginning with a very neat point and going on to make a vigorous one. It is properly made, and I hope that it will be registered outside, as well as inside, the House.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Would it be a good idea for the relevant Minister to make a statement next week on pay for real workers, as opposed to Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers who have lined their pockets in the past seven days? Is it not squalid and hypocritical for hon. Members to talk, within seven days of their massive salary increases, about a pay freeze for the real workers, and about pensioners and others receiving not more than a 3 per cent. increase?

Is it not hypocritical for Tory Members, such as the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), to condemn those people who are fighting to improve their wages and conditions, having carried out properly constituted ballots in accordance with Tory party law? Is it not high time that the Government showed a little decency and morality and told people, "If MPs and Ministers can get through the pay barrier, the same should apply to workers and to pensioners"?

Mr. Newton

I assume that the hon. Gentleman has not forgotten that the Government, through me, recommended a rather different outcome last week: that the House should restrain itself to a 3 per cent. increase. I make the point that the hon. Gentleman appears to be directing his remarks to, among others, about 140 Labour Members.

Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the remarks he made during a debate on parliamentary procedure last Thursday night. He said that many people in the United Kingdom find Parliament very remote, and that it is valuable to take Parliament and parliamentary Committees and sessions to those people, so that Parliament is more alive and more accessible to them and to their needs. What proposals does he offer the north of England in that respect? If he has such proposals, I assure him that Union Jacks will be flying in Newcastle.

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Gentleman's comments. I think that he has paraphrased my remarks rather loosely, but I do not have the text before me. He will be aware that I was speaking about the position of the Grand Committees in relation to Scotland and Wales, and about enabling those Committees to conduct hearings in those countries. I think that that is rather different from the point he makes.

Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)

In view of the risk of increased unemployment, higher taxes, the handing over of many of our remaining powers to Brussels, the risk of the break-up of the United Kingdom and of a reduction in law and order, does my right hon. Friend agree that time should be found to debate the dangers of new Labour?

Mr. Newton

We may see some of those indirectly, and no doubt unintentionally, during the Opposition day on Tuesday 23 July. I can only suggest that my hon. Friend might come along and try to expose as many of those dangers as he can.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to come to the House to explain that, despite the employment legislation passed by the House, it is the view of Her Majesty's Government that democratic ballots should be overturned at the whim of whichever political party happens to be in power at the time?

Mr. Newton

I have arranged for the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to be here next Wednesday, and the hon. Lady might like to put that question to her.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

May I support the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in his call for a debate on the increase in pay for Members of Parliament and Ministers, because it would be an opportunity to highlight the fact that Ministers voted neither for the vast increase in pay for Members of Parliament, nor for the increase in pay for Ministers, about which he carefully gave the opposite impression? Furthermore, when it came to which Lobbies were occupied, it could be highlighted that those in the Lobby for a large increase in pay were overwhelmingly Labour Members, and those in the Lobby against a large increase in pay were a vast majority of Conservative Members.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Member for Bolsover(Mr. Skinner), not for the first time—he clearly does not mind—put himself in a rather dangerous position in relation to the people behind him.