HC Deb 27 June 1996 vol 280 cc469-78 3.31 pm
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Will the Leader of the House set out the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

The business of the House for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 1 JULY—Progress on remaining stages of the Broadcasting Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 2 JULY—Completion of remaining stages of the Broadcasting Bill [Lords].

Motion relating to the Social Security (Disability Living Allowance and Claims and Payments) (Amendment) Regulations.

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

Proceedings on the Statutory Instruments (Production and Sale) Bill.

Proceedings on the Social Security (Overpayments) Bill.

THURSDAY 4 JULY—Until about 7 o'clock motions on the Structural and Boundary Change Orders. Details will be given in the Official Report.

FRIDAY 5 JULY—The House will not be sitting.

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

MONDAY 8 JULY—Remaining stages of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Bill [Lords].

Motions on the Industrial Tribunals (Northern Ireland) Order and the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order.

TUESDAY 9 JULY—Opposition Day [18th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Motions relating to the Occupational Pension Schemes Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 10 JULY—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Education (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

THURSDAY 11 JULY—It is expected that there will be debates on motions for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 12 JULY—Private Members' Bills.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 3 July, there will be a debate on European water policy in European Standing Committee A.

The House may also wish to know that it is proposed that on Wednesday 10 July there will be a debate on maritime policy in European Standing Committee A and a debate on the EC budget and the financial perspective in European Standing Committee B.

Subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the summer recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 25 July and return on Monday 14 October.

[Wednesday 4 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).] Wednesday 10 July: European Standing Committee A—European Community Document: 6813/96; Maritime Policy. Relevant European Committee Report HC 51-xxi (1995–96). European Standing Committee B—European Community Documents: a) COM(96)300; EC Preliminary Draft Budget for 1997. b) 6431/96 + COR 1; Financial Perspective. Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports a) HC 51-xxiii (1995–96). b) HC 51-xix (1995–96) and HC 51-xxii (1995–96).]

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 Hahon 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.

TUESDAY 9 JULY—Occupational Pension Schemes Regulations.

The relevant regulations are as follows:

The Occupational Pension Schemes (Pensions Compensation Board Limit on Borrowing) Regulations 1996; The Occupational Pension Schemes (Mixed Benefit Contracted-out Schemes) regulations 1996; The Occupational Pension Schemes (Requirement to Obtain Audited Accounts and a Statement from the Auditor) Regulations 1996; The Occupational Pension Schemes (Member-Nominated Trustees and Directors) Regulations 1996.]

Mr. Rooker

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for again giving as nearly as possible two full weeks of business. His statement has obviated the need for one of my questions. The school holidays started yesterday in Scotland and it is important for hon. Members' families to know the recess dates.

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on data protection in view of the decision yesterday by the British Medical Association that general practitioners should not sign up to the proposed NHS data network? There is obvious concern that too many people other than doctors will gain access to confidential reports about patients. There are reports that the Government have resisted the British Medical Association's suggestions on ways to protect sensitive information. We believe that patients are entitled to know that their medical records are secure from anyone who wants to probe on the network, whether employers, banks or insurance companies.

In view of the Deputy Prime Minister's ignorant—I was going to say inadequate—response to the points relating to married quarters, will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on early-day motion 1040?

[That this House notes that the Government proposes to sell all Ministry of Defence married quarters in England and Wales, including those occupied by service families as well as empty properties, to developers; further notes that this will leave service tenants dependent on a declining number of properties leased back for 25 years; notes that most of the properties can be exchanged by the developer with a neutral arbitrator, rather than the tenants or the Ministry of Defence, deciding whether or not exchanges are permitted; notes that the arbitrator will have to base his decision on set criteria which are vaguely worded, so that developers with expert legal advice will be able progressively to cream off the best estates; notes that steep rises in rents and the downward ratchet on the number of homes leased back, embodied in the proposed scheme, will progressively reduce and break up married quarter estates; notes that, especially at a time of overstretch, and poor recruiting and retention these estates play a vital role in maintaining the morale of service families and the maintenance of the regimental system; and calls on the Government to dispose of surplus estates, to provide homes for civilian families but, before selling any estate with service tenants, to consult the tenants on the estate, to report to Parliament on the outcome of the consultation and to table an affirmative resolution in both Houses.] Such a debate would enable hon. Members on both sides of the House to put service families' concerns to the Government across the Floor of the House before their houses are sold over them.

If reports are correct that, before the recess, a White Paper is to be published on the legal aid service which is purported to be the biggest shake-up in its 46-year history, the relevant Minister should make a statement in the House so that hon. Members can check on the price of justice for their constituents.

Mr. Newton

I have no plans for a debate on data protection, but I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. There is probably disappointment in some quarters of the House that we are not rising earlier than I have announced today, and I cannot envisage the possibility of too many more debates unless the hon. Gentleman wishes to press to be here into August.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Ministry of Defence married quarters. I do not accept that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister's answers were inadequate. I say clearly—as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on Tuesday at Prime Ministers questions—that is it the Government's belief and firm intention that the sale will improve the quality and management of service housing to the benefit of those about whom the hon. Gentleman is concerned.

We expect and intend to publish a White Paper on legal aid, and I note the hon. Gentleman's request for a statement.

Finally, in the spirit of the approaching holiday season, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his work rate this afternoon.

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)

I should like to press my right hon. Friend for one more debate before the recess. Has he seen early-day motion 953?

[That this House deplores the steep decline in serious reporting and analysis of politics and current affairs in the United Kingdom; notes that this decline has gathered pace in recent times, with increasing emphasis on personalities rather than policies, and on trivia rather than substance; notes the growing contrast both with the past in British journalism and with certain high quality daily newspapers in other countries; and suggests that the editors of those national papers that aim to contribute significantly to opinion-forming should demonstrate a more serious and less personal approach, and seek to achieve more balanced coverage and comment in relation to public issues and political development.] It is signed by 54 hon. Members from both sides of the House and calls attention to the steep decline in the serious reporting and analysis of politics and current affairs in the United Kingdom. It calls on the editors of the high-quality daily newspapers to seek to achieve more balanced coverage and comment in relation to public issues and policy development.

The competition among the broadsheets, between the broadsheets and the tabloids, and between the broadsheets and television and radio seems bound to continue. As the subject concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House, will my right hon. Friend find time as the Broadcasting Bill nears its conclusion for a debate on the subject in the House? In the dog days as we near the summer holidays, it seems appropriate that a debate on the issue should be led by that guardian of the media's probity, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

Mr. Newton

The two days' debate on the Broadcasting Bill next week may provide my right hon. Friend and others with an opportunity to make their point. I entirely accept that it is a serious one and his remarks will have struck a chord in various parts of the House. On a lighter note, quite apart from the difficulties of organising further debates for the reasons that I have mentioned, I would hesitate to provide time for a debate when, according to what my right hon. Friend has said, it would not even be reported.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on nurses' pay in view of the report published by the Royal College of Nursing on 17 June, referred to in early-day motion 1018, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)?

[That this House notes the report, Broken Promises, on the state of local pay in the nursing profession, published on J 7th June by the Royal College of Nursing; notes the report's findings that only 111 out of 488 NHS trusts have made pay offers to nurses above the 2 per cent. national pay award; notes that this has demoralised many nurses and done nothing to allay the problems of recruitment which the NHS currently faces; notes that many nurses have lost all confidence in the independence of the Pay Review Body; calls for a single national pay review body-far the whole NHS to remove the inequalities in consideration of pay rises between professions and occupations in the health service; and further calls for an annual increase in nurses' pay by at least the level of national inflation.] Nurses feel aggrieved that the Government's predictions that awards would be topped up have not materialised. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is a matter for real concern and that the Government should explain to the House their response to the position reported by the Royal College of Nursing?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has asked his question courteously and, in the same spirit, I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. The hon. Gentleman requested a debate, but the House spent all day yesterday debating the health service. If the Liberal Democrats had not been able to make that point in yesterday's debate, I would have been surprised.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Am I right to infer from what my right hon. Friend said that when we come back on 14 October, it will be to complete the unfinished business of this Session? If I am right, when will we have the state opening of the new Session?

Mr. Newton

I cannot go so far as to give the date that my hon. Friend has requested, but I can certainly confirm that we shall come back on 14 October to complete the business of the present Session.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Given the Prime Minister's record of luck, will we have an opportunity next week to ask him not to declare his preferences publicly when an important event like yesterday's takes place? If he had not, we might have stood a better chance of winning.

Mr. Newton

I can only imagine what would have happened had the Prime Minister, or any of us, said anything other than England when asked whom we wanted to win.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend go further and agree to a debate on Euro 96 so that we can congratulate the England team on a splendid performance in every possible way?

Mr. Newton

That sounds like a genuinely good idea and, even if I cannot provide a debate, I am happy to join in the good wishes and congratulations expressed to the England team for the way in which it has performed throughout the competition.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his answer on NHS records? He will be aware that if any member of NHS staff discloses patient details, he or she is subject to immediate disciplinary action and to dismissal. It would be the ultimate horror if it were possible for a clever computer hack to gain access to the intimate details of patients' records. Unless the Government can assure us that that will not happen and unless the Secretary of State will confirm that in the House, doctors and patient record controllers in the health service must give a guarantee to their patients that they will not put details on to the NHS computer.

Mr. Newton

I see no need to reconsider my earlier answer, not least because it did not say anything. I merely said that I would draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to the observations that have been made and, of course, I will also draw his attention to the hon. Lady's observations.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

May I join the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) in urging the Leader of the House to allow an early debate on the Government's proposals for Ministry of Defence housing? Is not it clear that many hon. Members suffer from a serious misapprehension about the Government's intentions? Those of us who have studied the subject in detail have been completely convinced about the Government's determination to improve housing for service personnel and that the present proposals will do that. A debate would enable those facts to be made clear.

Mr. Newton

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, who probably knows as much about these matters as any Member of the House and whose opinion on them is well respected. I hope that what he said will be taken carefully into account by those who have made different points.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Reference has already been made to the issue of MOD housing in which I have a constituency interest. Is the Leader of the House aware of the great interest in the decisions on defence procurement that must be taken soon, not least of which is the decision on the replacement for the Nimrod, which is based in my constituency at RAF Kinloss, and the replacement of the radar system for the search-and-rescue Sea King helicopters? Can he assure us that the Secretary of State for Defence will make an announcement on the decisions clearly and publicly in the House and not through a planted question?

Mr. Newton

I shall bring the hon. Lady's request to the attention of my right hon. Friend. I draw her attention to the fact that Defence Questions will take place on Tuesday 9 July. I am well aware of the level of interest in these matters, as my constituency contains a significant number of people who work in defence-related industries.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Will the Leader of the House agree to an urgent early debate on the nature of our constitution and the proposals for constitutional reform? People who seek to destroy our constitution do so at their peril, and they do so for reasons of gimmickry, not principles of genuine reform.

Mr. Newton

I agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend's remarks, and I shall bear in mind his request for a debate on this matter—even though it may not be possible to arrange one before the summer recess.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

The Leader of the House was in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) referred to the chronic bronchitis and emphysema regulations for former miners. Will he give us an assurance that there will be an early debate on this issue before the summer recess so that the recommendations of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, which I believe have been accepted, can be fully implemented?

Mr. Newton

I cannot add to what my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said a few moments ago, except to say that I too—not least in my capacity as a business manager—will be making inquiries about the point that was raised. Obviously, I have a close interest in this matter, as I was the Minister responsible for the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council and related issues for many years.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend give us his best estimate of the day on which we will debate the recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Body in relation to the pay of Members of Parliament? Does he agree with me that he should—as Leader of the House, in his all-party mode—seek to negotiate assurances from the leaders of all the parties in the House that there will be a genuinely free vote and that none of them will seek to take party advantage from the debate?

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's points, but I cannot give him the date on which the debate will take place. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister expects to receive the Senior Salaries Review Body's report later today and, of course, the Government wish to consider its recommendations carefully. We are aiming to publish the report on 4 July—the date on which we will also make known the Government's views. Today, I will write to the leaders of the other parties on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is absent in Lyon. I will send them a copy of the report and offer them the opportunity to comment to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister before it and our views are published.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Leader of the House will have heard the Deputy Prime Minister give an assurance that an incoming Conservative Government would not introduce assemblies in Scotland or in Wales. Will the Government begin to govern Northern Ireland at the same level as they are governing the rest of the United Kingdom? I have pressed for a meeting of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee for a long time. This week, a decision was taken by the Northern Ireland Office to scrap two education boards, against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Newton

I shall focus on the hon. Gentleman's request for a meeting of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee which, as I have said before, is under active consideration. Provided that we are sure that arrangements can be made that are acceptable to all parties in Northern Ireland, we will be happy to arrange for that. I hope that we will be able to do so before the summer recess.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

May we have a debate next week on early-day motion 1053, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher)?

That this House notes with sadness that for the first time in its history the TUC is led by a General Secretary who through his advocacy of early entry into EMU is prepared to connive at an increase in unemployment, particularly in the manufacturing and traded goods sectors; regrets that the General Secretary is prepared to serve the interests of a European political elite at the expense of British and European trades unionists and other workers; and calls on the TUC to sack the General Secretary for his betrayal of his members' interests and lack of intellectual rigour in examining the pros and cons of EMU.] It regrets that the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress proposes the return of Britain to the EMU in the immediate future. Is it not a shame to see—yet again, as in the days of old—the General Secretary of the TUC advocating policies that would damage the employment of his members in the manufacturing sector, purely so that he can follow the misguided policies of the Leader of the Labour party?

Mr. Newton

The answer to my hon. Friend is yes.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate about the adequacy of the current voluntary agreement between the Government and the tobacco industry in light of some serious breaches of that code? On 3 August the Gallagher tobacco company will stage a rave dance event in Nottingham as part of the Renaissance Silk Cut tour. It openly advocates smoking and it will give away free cigarettes to the young people who attend the event. I wrote to the Minister in May complaining about the company's activities and I was appalled to receive a reply recently saying that the Government propose to take no action against that flagrant disregard of the terms of the agreement. The House should debate whether, in light of the Government's inaction, the voluntary agreement is an adequate means of pursuing a reduction in cigarette smoking among young people.

Mr. Newton

I will bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

May we have an urgent debate on early-day motion 1016?

[That this House welcomes the initiative of Her Majesty's Government in appointing Sir David Hannay as their special representative for Cyprus; and wishes him all success in the achievement of a just solution of lasting benefit to all the citizens of the Republic of Cyprus whatever their ethnic origin.] Does my right hon. Friend accept that the continued division of Cyprus is intolerable and that it is wrong that people should be denied the right to live in the houses and in the villages where their families have lived for generations? Many people welcome the appointment of Sir David Hannay and we hope that some action will be taken in the not too distant future.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend and of others expressed in the early-day motion regarding Sir David Hannay's appointment. The Government are determined to strengthen our efforts to help to secure a negotiated settlement in Cyprus.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Like every other hon. Member, this morning the Leader of the House will have received from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) a survey conducted by an organisation that is examining the connection between violence and the levels of violence transmitted on television. Included with the report is a letter from the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) urging hon. Members to support two new clauses to the Broadcasting Bill which are on the Order Paper and which we hope will be selected and debated on Monday. They represent modest attempts to monitor the level of television violence and to do something effective about it. Will the Leader of the House promise that he will consult his Cabinet colleagues over the weekend so that that all-party move might be facilitated without unnecessary controversy or delay when the matter is debated on Monday?

Mr. Newton

I take that to be a public representation in advance of next week to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage. I shall ensure that she hears of it. I must acknowledge that I have not yet had time to study the material to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

May I reiterate the requests of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) for a debate on the sale of the married quarters estate? Would that not give us the opportunity to provide the assurances that people need in view of the anxieties that some in the House have whipped up unnecessarily in recent days? Would it not also expose the Opposition for what they are: a party that seeks a review of the policy but does not have a proper response to it?

Mr. Newton

That is more impressive support for the Government's position. My hon. Friend is my constituency neighbour and I know that he represents the important garrison town of Colchester.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

When may we have a debate about ferry safety and particularly the dangers of the so-called roll-on/roll-over ferries? Is it not a disgrace that three quarters of our ferries are still as dangerous as the Herald of Free Enterprise and the Estonia? In that debate we could congratulate Norway, which has made safety improvements to all of its ferries. Why must we wait until 2002 before British ferries are protected in the same way?

Mr. Newton

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might like to put that question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport when he is here on Monday 8 July.