HC Deb 20 June 1996 vol 279 cc999-1009 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 24JUNE—Remaining stages of the Defamation Bill [Lords].

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

TUESDAY 25 JUNE—Opposition Day [16th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on the Government's policy on bovine spongiform encephalopathy on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

WEDNESDAY 26JUNE—Until 12.30 pm, debate on the second report from the Employment Committee on the right to work/workfare followed by a debate on the sixth report from the Treasury Committee on the private finance initiative. Followed by debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Opposition Day [17th Allotted Day].

There will be a debate entitled "Bureaucracy and Patient Care in the NHS" on an Opposition motion.

THURSDAY 27 JUNE—Estimates day [2nd Allotted Day — 2nd part].

There will be a debate on the future role of the Commonwealth.

FRIDAY 28 JUNE—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

MONDAY 1 JULY AND TUESDAY 2 JULY—Progress on and completion of remaining stages of the Broadcasting Bill [Lords].

That will be followed on Tuesday 2 July by a debate on a motion relating to the Social Security (Disability Living Allowance) (Claims and Payments) (Amendment) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 3 JULY—Until 2 o'clock, debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Until about 7 o'clock, proceedings on the Social Security (Overpayments) Bill, followed by proceedings on the Statutory Instruments (Production and Sale) Bill.

THURSDAY 4 JULY—Until about 7 o'clock, motions on the Structural and Boundary Change Orders.

FRIDAY 5 JULY—The House will not be sitting.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 26 June, there will be a debate on small and medium-sized enterprises in European Standing Committee B. On Wednesday 3 July, there will be a debate on European water policy in European Standing Committee A. [Wednesday 26 June: European Standing Committee B—European Community Documents (a) 6141/96: Small and Medium Sized Enterprises; (b) 6929/96: Loans to Small and Medium Sized Enterprises; Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports a) HC 51-xix (1995–96) (b) HC 51-xxii (1995–96) Wednesday 3 July: European Standing Committee A—European Community Documents (a) 8600/94: Ecological Quality of Water; (b) 5939/96: EC Water Policy; Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports a) HC 70-ii (1994–95) and HC 48-xxvi (1993–94); (b) HC 51-xvii (1995–96) Thursday 27 June:

Estimates Day [2nd Allotted Day—2nd Part]

Class 11, votes 1 to 5, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; overseas representation; other external relations; BBC World Service; The British Council; and Overseas Development Administration: external assistance: in so far as they relate to the future role of the Commonwealth. Relevant Report:

The First Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1995–96, on the future role of the Commonwealth (HC45–1). Thursday 4 July—Motions on the structural and boundary change orders. The relevant orders are as follows:

The Cambridgeshire (City of Peterborough) (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996.

The Lancashire (Boroughs of Blackburn and Blackpool) (Structural Change) Order 1996.

The Nottinghamshire (City of Nottingham) (Structural Change) Order 1996.

The Cheshire (Boroughs of Halton and Warrington) (Structural Change) Order 1996.

The Devon (City of Plymouth and Borough of Torbay) (Structural Change) Order 1996.

The Essex (Boroughs of Colchester, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock and District of Tendring) (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996.

The Hereford and Worcester (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996.

The Kent (Borough of Gillingham and City of Rochester Upon Medway) (Structural Change) Order 1996.

The Shropshire (District of the Wrekin) (Structural Change) Order 1996.

The Berkshire (Structural Change) Order 1996.]

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the Leader of the House for that information. Can he tell us today whether the Prime Minister will make a statement on Monday on the outcome of his meeting in Florence? Will the Leader of the House ensure that the House is given the opportunity to vote on a substantive Government motion on any specific proposals on BSE which are decided upon as a result of any decisions in Florence this weekend, not least because such a vote will be of great interest, when we see the details, to hon. Members on both sides of the House?

The Leader of the House announced that the remaining stages of the Broadcasting Bill will be held on Monday and Tuesday of the week after next. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will not seek to overturn the amendments that were tabled in Committee by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes), which were carried with all-party support? Those amendments, as I am sure the Leader of the House is aware, will do much in the next decade to improve the accessibility of television for the deaf and visually impaired. He will realise that those amendments are important for the individuals involved and I hope that he will agree that it would be shameful if the House were to try to overturn those amendments. Will he confirm that the Government will not seek to do so?

On another important issue, the Leader of the House will be aware of the Government defeat in the House of Lords on Monday on nursery vouchers. The Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill was discussed and an eminently sensible amendment, to defer the implementation of the scheme until evaluation of the pilots could take place, was passed. We know that the Leader of the House has had a letter from the Secretary of State for Education and Employment which suggests that the Government may experience difficulty overturning the amendment in the Commons and also suggests measures for circumventing the decision in the Lords. Are the Government so fearful of their case that they intend to avoid facing that issue again in the Commons? Would it not be wise to take on board the evidence that comes from those pilots before the final implementation of that rather foolish scheme?

May I also ask the Leader of the House, wearing his hat as Chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, whether he can confirm that the Select Committee should be ready to make its report on conduct in the next couple of weeks? Will he, as Leader of the House, guarantee that time will be found before the summer recess so that the House can debate and, I hope, accept the recommendations in that report?

Finally, is the Leader of the House aware that his colleagues in the Home Office are such great admirers of Labour Back Benchers that they have adopted the ideas of at least three private Member's Bills, including those on stalking, on paedophiles and on an amendment to the Public Order Act 1986? Will the Leader of the House ensure that the adoption of those ideas by Home Office Ministers is not used as an excuse to block the measures when they go through their remaining stages? Good ideas are still good ideas even when they come from Labour Members.

Mr. Newton

I shall work backwards. The hon. Lady's last remarks were pretty silly, not least because the national campaigners on stalking have made it clear that they acknowledge the defects in the Opposition Bill and think that the Government are acting appropriately by bringing forward their proposals. That is the sensible and responsible way to behave and the hon. Lady may regret her comments when she reflects on them.

On the subject of the Nolan report, I am happy to pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her helpful and constructive approach in the proceedings of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. I can confirm that I am reasonably hopeful now that the Select Committee will be able to produce a report before the recess. I take note of her wish and, I guess, that of others in the House that, if it proves practicable, we should seek an opportunity for a debate. I am bound to say, however, that the pressures on time are mounting all the time.

On the subject of nursery vouchers, the hon. Lady will understand if I say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has taken careful note of the amendment passed in another place on Monday night, but we have always said that we would evaluate the phase 1 pilots. The results that have been gathered show that the parents in phase 1 are positive about the scheme and we have every intention of ensuring that we can introduce vouchers for all four-year-olds in England from April 1997.

On the subject of the Broadcasting Bill, I am sure that the hon. Lady would not expect me to anticipate debates in 10 days' time, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage will be sympathetic to the general concerns of disabled people, as I am, as a former Minister for disabled people. I will bring her remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Lastly, I can confirm that I expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make a statement after the Florence summit. Any question about debates can be resolved only when we know the summit's outcome.

Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)

As the House did not have an opportunity to debate whether Members' televisions in their rooms should have a direct feed from the Floor of the House, may we have a debate to consider the effect of that provision? It may be true that hon. Members are now hearing more debates than they heard before as they can watch them in their rooms while working on constituency mail and so on, but the effect on attendance on the Floor of the House and the impression created outside has been awful. If we cannot have a system whereby, if Members are watching in their rooms, a hologram of them appears in their place on the Floor of the House, perhaps we could at least have a system whereby the outside television sets show more than one picture—not just the Floor of the House, but the Standing and Select Committees that are taking place at the same time.

Mr. Newton

I cannot conceive of any hologram that would be an adequate substitute for my right hon. Friend. While I am aware of the sort of concerns that my right hon. Friend has expressed, there would be a revolution among hon. Members if we attempted to go back from the present position to where we were. I am certainly anxious to play my part in any efforts to bring home to the public outside how much work goes on in this place all the time, not necessarily on the Floor of the Chamber.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

I was interested to see that the Government have put off the debate on local Government reorganisation for a week. I was disappointed that they still expect it to take place in the same sort of time as it was originally allocated next week. As some of the reorganisation plans are contentious and the average time allocated for each one is currently only 20 minutes, would it not be more sensible to allow for a comparatively short debate on the non-contentious plans and to allow the more contentious ones to be debated at greater length, according to their worth?

Mr. Newton

I am not aware that any of the plans are particularly contentious. I said that I would reflect on the points raised by Liberal Democrats last week, and by the hon. Gentleman with me privately. I have come to the conclusion that what I have proposed seems to be the most sensible course. The earlier, significantly greater, number of local government orders were debated together and did not take up all the time allocated to them on the Floor of the House—I think that they took up roughly the sort of time that I am proposing on this occasion.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have a debate next week on early-day motion 940?

[That this House recognises that a report by Ealing Council into efforts to manipulate the housing list by two Labour councillors, who are prospective parliamentary candidates, shows that their conduct in this matter was extremely suspect and inappropriate and that it further shows that both of these individuals attended court in order to seek to influence legal proceedings instituted by the council to evict unlawful tenants; recognises that their efforts to retain known Labour voters in an illegal council tenancy with the deliberate aim of increasing Labour Party support in the Perivale Ward of Ealing was unfair to the 10,000 people on the housing waiting list and political gerrymandering of the gravest kind; and calls upon the National Executive of the Labour Party to examine their suitability as prospective parliamentary candidates.]

It takes to task two Labour councillors in Ealing who have corruptly been seeking to obtain Labour council accommodation for Labour voters. That issue should be exposed on the Floor of the House for the evil and disgrace that it is, and for the unfairness that it creates for the 10,000 people on the housing list who are not Labour voters.

Mr. Newton

I share my hon. Friend's concern at what is alleged to have happened in that case. I am sure that the people of Ealing will be no less interested than my hon. Friend in the findings of the independent inquiry, which I understand is looking into the matter.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

May we have a statement soon clarifying the Government's intentions regarding the date of the general election in view of the report in today's edition of The Independent that Downing street is preparing contingency plans for an October election? Apparently, it all depends on whether England win Euro 96. Are Ministers so depressed about their own performance that they now depend on Gazza's performance?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Following the astonishing news last week that the two countries that last year voted not to join the European Economic Community are doing wonderfully well in terms of jobs and trade when compared with those that voted to join, which appear to be in an appalling financial mess, may we have an early debate next week on the narrow issue of the huge advantages that nations can gain by not joining the EEC?

Mr. Newton

I have no plans for such a debate, but perhaps my hon. Friend will catch your eye, Madam Speaker, in the debate that is to take place after my right hon. Friend's statement today. I remind my hon. Friend of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said not so many minutes ago about the excellent performance that this country is putting in on the economic front inside the European Union.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will the Leader of the House find Government time to debate holiday flights, particularly charter flights, on aircraft that are not registered in Britain and fly out of here with British holidaymakers to a third destination? He will be aware that his noble Friend the Minister for Aviation and Shipping made a statement yesterday that appeared to deal with this but in fact guaranteed only that such flights will be able to change their country of registration after 1 August. It does not offer protection to holidaymakers. I hope that the Leader of the House is taking this seriously. It will be too late when a plane full of British holidaymakers has gone down because we did not take action to ensure that the planes are safe.

Mr. Newton

I always take seriously points made by the hon. Lady, and my noble Friend's attention was drawn to the fact that she has raised these matters with me before. I shall now draw his attention to the fact that she does not regard the remarks made yesterday in another place as adequate. I am sure that he will consider what the hon. Lady has said.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Central Railway plc has applied for an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 but that the Secretary of State for Transport decided that because the matter is of national significance it should be debated and voted on by both Houses of Parliament, and the earliest date when this could take place is Monday 22 July? Because of the massive blight and uncertainty that the proposal is causing all along the route, will my right hon. Friend do everything to ensure that the debate and vote does indeed take place during the week beginning Monday 22 July?

Mr. Newton

I said last week that I expect that the House will sit well into the second half of July, and I can assure my hon. Friend that I share his hope that it will be possible to deal with this matter before the summer recess.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On the question of an election in the autumn, will the Leader of the House comment or get somebody to make a statement on the significant fact that the Government are clearing up all the business so that there will not be an overspill period in October? As we have not had an announcement about the recess either, we are bound to draw the conclusion that the Government are trying to provide a contingency arrangement for an election in October or November. My real interest is whether I have to order the envelopes.

Mr. Newton

The only thing that I can say about the envelopes is that the hon. Gentleman will need them some time within the next year. As for the rest of his good-natured but mischievous question, I can tell him that it now looks virtually certain that there will be an overspill and that the Government are well advanced with planning a significant legislative programme for the next Session.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

In view of the decision of the Transport Council of the EU in recent days to arrogate to the EU the right to negotiate international air service agreements, which hitherto has been the prerogative entirely of sovereign states, can my right hon. Friend persuade the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House to explain what the implications might be, particularly for my constituents, many of whom work at Heathrow, which is, of course, the premier gateway into Europe and a vital source of revenue for the economy and the local community?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend is well aware of the Government's sympathy, and that of my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, for his position. I shall bring his request to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South-West)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that, when we debate bovine spongiform encephalopathy next week, we are given a final figure for the number of cattle that are to be culled? My farmers are very worried about the number that is being mooted, be it 20,000, 45,000, 150,000 or more. They are in disarray. They are dismayed by the cut in top-up support premium from 25p to 10p. Will he assure the House that the Minister will finally come up with a figure next week?

Mr. Newton

I am sure that, in the wake of the discussions that will take place in Florence—which were much discussed during Prime Minister's Question Time— both my right hon. Friend and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister will seek to clarify the position as soon as they can. I must, however, reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on several occasions. All the cattle that have been the subject of some rather exaggerated—indeed, simply wrong—reports in today's newspapers, being by definition considerably more than 30 months old, would have been slaughtered anyway.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

My right hon. Friend will know that this morning the Trade and Industry Select Committee published its report on the affairs of BMARC. He will also know that the report wholly exonerates my right hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Mr. Aitken), and clears him and others of any wrongdoing.

My right hon. Friend may also be aware that last night Messrs Goodman Derrick, solicitors acting for Granada Television, wrote to the Clerk of the Select Committee seeking to prevent this morning's news conference from taking place and publicising those facts. It would seem that Granada Television believes that it is in the public interest to publish smears, lies and allegations against a Member of Parliament, but that it is not in order for a Select Committee of the House to give publicity to the truth. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Select Committee report to be debated as a matter of urgency, so that these matters can be fully and properly aired and the practices perpetrated by Granada can be exposed?

Mr. Newton

I share my hon. Friend's interest in the steps that he tells us were taken last night. I am sure that they will be widely noted. As for the Select Committee report, debates on such reports usually—although not always—take place after being selected by the Liaison Committee to fill the slots that are available. I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) to my hon. Friend's suggestion. I can also confirm that the report found nothing to substantiate the allegations against my right hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Mr. Aitken).

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

The 10,000 people in the Calder Valley in my constituency who signed a petition against the imposition of nursery vouchers will be very disappointed by the right hon. Gentleman's assertion that vouchers will be imposed by 1997. When does the Secretary of State for Education and Employment intend to bring the issue back to the House, and how can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that the House will pass the legislation?

Mr. Newton

I cannot answer the latter question at this stage, because the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill is still being dealt with in another place. As for the hon. Lady's first point, I find her attitude extraordinary. She used the word "imposed", but nothing is being imposed on anyone. What is being offered is an additional choice.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

May we have a debate next week on early-day motion 1015?

[That this House notes the failure of the BBC Television Panorama programme of Monday 17th June to draw a curious connection to the attention of their viewers; namely, that in an attempt to portray incompetence by the Conservative government, they focused on a farm near Ashford, Kent, alleging at the least irresponsible management leading to the spread of BSE, and hinting at a possible connection with three CJD cases in East Kent; and notes that they displayed the proprietors of the farm to be R. Sternberg of Plurenden Farm, but significantly failed to mention that this referred to the late Rudy Sternberg, a personal friend of the late Harold Wilson, who was created a Life Peer by the then Labour Prime Minister in the style and title of Baron Plurenden, ostensibly for services to British agriculture.]

Such a debate would enable us to investigate the quality of the research done by television programmes. It is clear from the "Panorama" programme about BSE that the intention as to rubbish the Government's work in dealing with the disease.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

It was very successful.

Mr. Arnold

The hon. Gentleman says that it was successful. Who was the proprietor of the farm featured in the programme? No less than Rudy Sternberg, who was made a life peer by the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson for services to agriculture. Perhaps, while aiming to hit the Conservative Government, "Panorama" accidentally ripped the scab off Labour sleaze that took place at the time of the Harold Wilson Government.

Mr. Newton

That is an interesting point. It is always a matter of concern when programmes purporting to give a factual account of events seem to omit details that might be relevant. I am sure that, in the light of what he has said, my hon. Friend will want to pay tribute to the steps taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to introduce greater transparency in the honours system.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

On 23 February, the junior Health Minister, with great fanfare, announced a £50 million powered wheelchair programme. In May, the Department finally got round to issuing some guidelines, but there seem to be tremendous problems in gaining access to the provisions that are supposed to have been established. May we have a debate about the matter?

Mr. Newton

I cannot sensibly promise a debate alongside all the other pressures that have been put on me for debates in the past couple of weeks, but I will bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

May I ask my right hon. Friend for a debate on London Transport so that the House can condemn the proposed series of one-day strikes that will disrupt the lives of thousands of my constituents and many hundreds of thousands of Londoners? During such a debate, one could contrast that negative approach with the Government's positive approach in improving the Northern line, in extending the Jubilee line, in encouraging the Heathrow to Paddington link and in improving the Docklands light railway.

Mr. Newton

The whole House is, or should be, disappointed about ASLEF's proposed action. As we have seen time and again, such strikes do not benefit anyone, least of all the travelling public. They will prevent them from enjoying the benefits of the various Government measures to which my hon. Friend has referred. I hope that we might hear some words of condemnation from Labour Front-Bench Members, but I suspect that that is a triumph of hope over experience.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East)

In regard to the jobseeker's regulations, I would be grateful if the Leader of the House brought a Minister to the House to make a statement and to order an inquiry into the death of my constituent, Thomas Causon. In the month since his death, his mother has been unable to establish and to apportion blame for the death. He was 40 years old, had a serious epilepsy condition and was receiving medication, but he was forced to attend an interview. He understood, perhaps mistakenly, that, unless he attended the particular job that he was sent to, he would lose benefit. The job involved painting and decorating outside in bitterly cold weather. Unfortunately, he collapsed and died, but his mother has been unable to establish whether the procedures adopted under the jobseeker's regulations were appropriately applied.

Mr. Newton

In the light of what the hon. Gentleman has said, the whole House would want to express its sympathy to the family involved. He will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to comment further without any further information about the circumstances. I will, of course, bring his points to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Social Security and for Education and Employment, who are both here to answer questions next week.

Mr. Flynn

When may we have a debate on television advertising so that we can congratulate the Independent Television Commission, which, in the past couple of hours, has instructed television companies not to show an ASDA advertisement featuring an actress that is designed to push medicinal drugs, in particular paracetamol, which kills twice as many people as heroin in almost every year—it certainly did so last year—and a series of drugs called co-proxamol, which also kills more than 200 people a year? Is ASDA not wrong to make those drugs more accessible to children as young as 12 by cutting the price of those drugs and by advertising them on television? Should not we be protected in our homes from drug pushers?

Mr. Newton

As some of the hon. Gentleman's points are fresh to me and as, I must admit, I doubt whether it is right for him to accuse ASDA of irresponsibility, the sensible and right course is for me to bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage, and to make the point that television advertising might be in order when we return to proceedings on the Broadcasting Bill in 10 days' time.