§ 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 24 FEBRUARY—Opposition Day [6th allotted day].
There will be a debate on the national health service on an Opposition motion.
TUESDAY 25 FEBRUARY—Until about 7 pm, Second Reading of the Social Security (Recovery of Benefits) Bill [Lords].
Proceedings on the following Bills, which are consolidation measures: the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Bill [Lords]; the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Bill [Lords]; the Planning (Hazardous Substances) (Scotland) Bill [Lords]; and the Planning (Consequential Provisions) (Scotland) Bill [Lords].
Remaining stages of the National Heritage Bill [Lords]
Remaining stages of the Civil Procedure Bill [Lords]
Remaining stages of the Sex Offenders Bill.
WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY—Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Motion on section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act.
Remaining stages of the Contract (Scotland) Bill.
Remaining stages of the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman and Commissioner for Local Administration in Scotland Bill.
Remaining stages of the Flood Prevention and Land Drainage (Scotland) Bill.
THURSDAY 27 FEBRUARY—Debate on Welsh affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
FRIDAY 28 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.
Once again, I am unable to give much information about the following week, but on Monday 3 March I expect to propose that we take the remaining stages of the Welsh Development Agency Bill.
The House will also wish to know, Madam Speaker, that on Wednesday 5 March there will be a debate on the Court of Auditors reports in European Standing Committee B. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.
[Wednesday 5 March: European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community Documents: (a) OJ C340, Court of Auditors' Report for 1995; (b) OJ C395, Court of Auditors' Statement of Assurance for 1995; (c) Court of Auditors' Statement of Assurance for 1995: European Development Funds. Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports: (a) and (b) HC 36-xii (1996–97); (c) HC 36-xiv ( 1996–97).]
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
I thank the Leader of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman has announced that Labour's choice of debate in Opposition time on Monday is the national health service. Will he ensure that the Secretary of State for Health is prepared to give full answers about why 1046 his stewardship of that office has led to the longest waiting lists in hospitals? Despite the Prime Minister's assurances earlier this afternoon, the official figures show that there are now more than 1 million people waiting for their operations, and that in the last quarter there has been an increase of 21,900 in those waiting longer than a year for their operation. May we have a fully informed debate on Monday rather than one in which those questions are dodged?
As the Labour party has provided time for a debate on health, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on another aspect of Government policy that is causing misery to millions transport? In recent days—the fiascos have been coming fast and furious. We have had the crisis confronting London Underground because of the "will they, won't they?" question about its privatisation. The services provided by South West Trains have been in disarray because of the company's utter incompetence, which led to 70 drivers being sacked and the cancellation of 39 trains a day. Recently, we have had the obscene profiteering of four fat cats who bought Eversholt Train Leasing Ltd. at a knock-down price and who have made massive personal profits. Surely the House has a right to debate those issues.
Will the Leader of the House tell us what has happened to the Government's proposals for a building societies Bill? The matter has been buried despite the promises that have been made over the past two years. Can he tell us why it has been buried, and what the Government intend to do to allay the fears and uncertainty in the building society industry?
Is the Leader of the House aware that the Department of Trade and Industry has terminated the trades fair support scheme? The scheme, which generated £400 million in new exports and covered its own costs, was of enormous benefit to many firms across the country, including Sinclaire Fabrics, in my constituency. Those firms now believe that Government policy is undermining their export effort. As the termination has not been debated in the House, may we have such a debate so that the House can discuss the scheme's valuable contributions, and so that the Government might reconsider their position because of the concern among the public and hon. Members?
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Secretary of State for the Environment's barmy scheme to revive the stately home? Such a debate would afford the Secretary of State an opportunity to explain why he is more concerned about the housing arrangements and planning difficulties of a handful of millionaires than he is about affordable homes for thousands of homeless people in Britain.
§ Mr. Newton
Taking the last point first, I think that it was a rather odd one for the hon. Lady to raise. Last week was national empty homes week, in which the Government were making a major effort to continue the progress that is being made in reducing the number of empty homes across the country. The background, of course, is that Labour authorities are among the worst performers, and the number of empty local authority homes has risen, whereas the total is falling.
Obviously I will bring the hon. Lady's remarks on the trades fair support scheme to the attention of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. However, the Government are attempting to find more effective ways in which to support our export effort, and we have certainly not ceased to do so.
1047 On a building societies Bill, it has always been our hope that—following the publication of a draft, further consultation and the publication of another draft Bill—we might be able to make progress in this Session. I certainly do not rule that out, and I will bear in mind the hon. Lady's remarks.
Although the hon. Lady practically made a speech on transport that could have been made in a transport debate—which I think would have many attractions—she, perhaps rather unusually, got her facts wrong. She said that drivers had been sacked. However, it was a voluntary redundancy scheme, which is something quite different.
On the hon. Lady's Eversholt point, one matter that she did not mention was that the rise in share prices in the intervening period has been rather more. The rise in the Financial Times index over the relevant period has been slightly more than the rise in the price of the firm.
As for the NHS debate, I have never known my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to be less than well and fully briefed. I am quite sure that he will be able to dispose of any question that she or any other hon. Member would like to ask him.
§ Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 135?
[That this House, believing that airline passengers, United Kingdom trade and the British aviation industry can only benefit from an expansion of services from United Kingdom airports where demand already exists, particularly regional airports such as Manchester, requests the Secretary of State for Transport to take every opportunity to liberalise access for airlines wishing to serve these airports, so that regional travellers can use their own airports wherever possible to the benefit of economic development in those areas and slots can be freed at London's airports for services which will enhance one of the world's largest hubs; and particularly urges the Secretary of State to pursue this policy during the forthcoming talks with the Singapore Government so that both United Kingdom and Singapore carriers can operate between their two countries and beyond without predetermined restrictions in order to meet growing demand in timely fashion.]
The all-party early-day motion is about the liberalisation of air transport services between the United Kingdom and Singapore, and has been signed by 125 hon. Members. Negotiations between the United Kingdom and Singapore have now been going on for 15 months, without any progress being made, and the next round is due to start on 3 March. May I ask my right hon. Friend to draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport—who is next to him on the Treasury Bench—the importance of that early-day motion, and to ask him to do all that he can to resolve the matter in the forthcoming talks? May we also have a debate on the issue, so that those of us who feel strongly about it can have a chance to express our views?
§ Mr. Newton
As my hon. Friend will have noted by his glance, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has taken direct delivery of the point and I shall therefore have no need to pass it on to him. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will consider it.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
In addition to a repeated bid for the annual debate on the 1048 policing of London, may I ask the Leader of the House in all seriousness for a debate in Government time on what we can do to bring people such as the killers of Stephen Lawrence to justice? There has been an inquest and a finding of unlawful killing; the Daily Mail alleged on its front page that five young men are murderers; clearly, someone knows what happened; the juries acquitted not on a substantive hearing but on a technicality; and there might even be consensus in the House on speedy legislation to allow the people involved to be tried again substantively if the evidence permitted. Please can we do something, because it seems to whole sectors of the community, not just the black community, that justice is not being done?
§ Mr. Newton
First, I note the hon. Gentleman's renewed request for what has become an annual debate on the policing of London, which I shall continue to bear in mind. As for the unhappy case of Stephen Lawrence's death, I do not think that I can add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, but I am sure that both he and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will look very carefully at the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
May we have a debate next week on the value of libraries in the educational and cultural life of our children and in the continuing education and cultural life of all adults, so that I might bring to the House's attention the great value of Pitshanger library and libraries in Perivale, Hanwell, Greenford, Northolt and other parts of my constituency which are threatened by Ealing Labour council with either closure or serious cuts in services? Such cuts would be to the great detriment of the life of the community that I have the honour to represent, and they should be resisted.
§ Mr. Newton
Listening to my hon. Friend fairly regularly on these occasions, I have come to the conclusion that there is no limit to the iniquities of Ealing borough council. I and the whole Government, not least my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage, certainly share my hon. Friend's view about the importance of libraries. He will be aware that the Government have published a document on the matter this very week.
§ Mr. Faulds
I am so grateful for that warm welcome—again, please. Madam Speaker, may I inform you in privacy that my wife and I this morning had only very slight hangovers and we are most grateful to you?
May I be less demanding of the Leader of the House this week than I was last week? Is he not well aware, as the people who are concerned about foreign affairs in this House are, that there are increasing dangers to peace in Turkey, in Greece, in Albania, in Kosovo and in Cyprus and it really is essential that these matters are debated before the House is prorogued, because there are real dangers to peace in that part of the world?
§ Mr. Newton
The hon. Gentleman put this point to me last week, and I do not remember exactly what I said; 1049 perhaps he might take it as having been said again, but I do not in any way dismiss the importance of the point to which he has adverted again. He will be aware, for example, that the Foreign Secretary's visit to Cyprus shortly before Christmas very much reflected our commitment to achieving a solution to the Cyprus problem.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 545 on asylum seekers, which has so far attracted 40 signatures from all parts of the House?
[That this House welcomes the decision of the Court of Appeal on 17th February, which notes the special circumstances which make asylum seekers eligible for food and shelter under the National Assistance Act 1948; and calls on the Government to accept the Court's decision, fully compensate local authorities for the costs involved in discharging their duties to asylum seekers under the Act and work constructively with these authorities to ensure that an adequate and consistent level of support is provided to enable them to live decently while pursuing their applications.]
Is there not a need for an early debate, following the Court of Appeal's decision on 17 February, so that we can ensure that local authorities such as mine in Hillingdon do not have to bear asylum seekers' accommodation and subsistence costs? Should that not be a national responsibility, shared equally by all the citizens of this country?
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are seeking leave to appeal to the House of Lords on that case. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to say a great deal. Manifestly, that seeking of leave to appeal shows that the Government do not accept that the provisions of the National Assistance Act 1948 apply to adult asylum seekers who are not elderly, infirm or disabled and have no need for community care services. We shall pursue that case.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
May we have a debate as early as possible on tax exiles? I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 546.
[That this House welcomes the undertaking given by the multi-millionaire Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber that he will quit Britain should Labour win the General Election; believes such a promise provides an extra incentive to vote Labour; and looks forward to Sir Andrew keeping his promise.]
I tabled that early-day motion based on a newspaper story that said that Sir Andrew intended to quit this country if Labour won the general election. I have now received a statement from him saying that he is deeply committed to this country, has never been resident abroad and would never leave Britain unless forced to do so by punitive taxation. As there is as little chance of a Labour Government introducing punitive taxation as there is of my writing a hit musical, Sir Andrew will clearly be staying in this country. He is a great composer and an English gentleman, who will be able to enjoy the fruits of his labour under a Labour Government.
§ Mr. Newton
If there was not punitive taxation under a Labour Government—happily, I do not expect one—it 1050 would be the first Labour Government in history under which there was not. I look forward to a Conservative Government and to attending the hon. Gentleman's musical.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
May I follow the question of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who I note is no longer here? It would be wrong to try to change the idea of double jeopardy, but in memory of Stephen Lawrence it might be a good idea to have a debate on encouraging more parents to bring up their children in the way in which Doreen and Neville Lawrence brought up Stephen, Stuart and Georgina. We ought to draw attention to the way in which parents bring up the children who carry knives, stay in groups that take part in murderous attacks and create a wall of silence to deny the family of the murder victim and the rest of us knowledge of what happened that night.
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend is right to comment on the importance of the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). He is also right to underline the fact that these problems cannot be solved by a stroke of the pen or a single Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to a children's computer game that will shortly be released on the market? The game simulates driving a car that mounts the kerb and kills people. The more people the child kills and the older those people are, the more points the child gets. Will the right hon. Gentleman draw this to the attention of the Home Office and get the computer game banned at once?
§ Mr. Newton
The answer to that question is unequivocally yes. From the account that the hon. Gentleman has given—I am reliant on that account—I hope that those concerned with the game might think again.
§ Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate next week on the local government settlement and the level of council tax being budgeted for by Essex county council, which wants to make cuts in the fire service, cuts in education, cuts in the library service and cuts in other essential services? Those cuts are not necessary, because of the high level of reserves on which the council is sitting.
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend will remember that it is not long since we had a debate on Essex fire services and related matters, in which he took part. As a fellow Essex Member of Parliament, I understand and share his concerns, not least about some of Essex county council's proposals for school transport.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)
Will the Leader of the House ensure that Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party are allocated the supply day due to us? A previous debate was lost because of a mistake by others. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that that practice does not continue and become blatant discrimination against Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party? If the normal channels are blocked, will he unblock them?
§ Mr. Newton
I know of no blockage in the usual channels. We have provided one Opposition day for the minority parties. I am aware that they are likely to be due another. I bear his point in mind. The hon. Gentleman will also know that, under the conventions of the House, it is for the Leader of the Liberal Democrats to decide how the minority party days are allocated.
§ Sir James Hill (Southampton, Test)
I expect that my right hon. Friend has noticed early-day motion 378.
[That this House welcomes the joint appeal by the church councils of both parts of the Sudan entitled 'Here We Stand United in Action for Peace' noting particularly their appeal for international help to oversee a cease-fire and a referendum; and encourages the Foreign Secretary to respond positively.]
The motion expresses the concern of the Church councils on what can only be called the genocide in southern Sudan. Is it possible, through the United Nations, to initiate a peace movement, more humanitarian aid and perhaps even an investigation by the Security Council of the United Nations on how to stop that dreadful warfare?
§ Mr. Newton
As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office explained to the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) last November, it is certainly our view that the Sudan needs constitutional arrangements that are acceptable to people in all parts of the country. The British Government wish to do everything that they can to bring that about. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will look carefully at my hon. Friend's proposal.
§ Mr. Hugh Bayley (York)
Now that all British Rail services, both passenger and freight, have been either sold or franchised, doubts have arisen in railway constituencies such as mine about the future of British Rail itself. More than 60 former employees of British Rail Engineering Ltd. carriageworks in York have died from asbestos-related diseases, and their widows have submitted claims for compensation to British Rail. I want to know, and those widows need to know, who will pay compensation in future if British Rail ceases to exist. Can the Leader of the House answer that question? If not, may we have a debate so that the Minister responsible can make a statement to the House?
§ Mr. Newton
It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that I am not in a position to give an immediate answer to his question. I see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has temporarily left the Chamber, but I shall bring the question to his attention, and I am sure that he will write to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on the future of the Tote? If such a debate were to take place, would my right hon. Friend like to speculate on the odds-on favourite to speak for the Opposition—the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) or the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)?
§ Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)
During last Monday's debate on BSE, one serious question remained unanswered; it involved the storage and disposal of BSE waste. Given that only 4 per cent. of the waste has so far been incinerated, may we have a statement next week on the storage, transport and disposal of BSE waste, to meet the urgent concerns of many neighbourhoods?
§ Mr. Newton
In the wake of this week's debate, I cannot promise a statement next week, but I shall bring the point to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
The Leader of the House will of course know that the assessors will be revisiting the wreck of MV Derbyshire in the next few days, and will probably be there for about 40 days or more. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that as much information as possible will be given to the Derbyshire Families Association about the return of the assessors to this country, and that the assessors' findings will be made widely available to the media and the rest of the country?
§ Mr. Newton
It is a pity that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has been unable to stay throughout these exchanges, but I am sure that he will study this one. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that my right hon. Friend and I have done everything that we can to be helpful to him in recent years over his concerns. I am sure that that approach will continue.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 497?
[That this House notes with concern the Amnesty International Urgent Action Bulletin of 7th February that the conditions of detention of Ms R. McAliskey may amount to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment; notes the conditions of detention of the pregnant Ms McAliskey have led to a deterioration in her physical and psychological health and gives cause for concern; notes with despair the proposal that, if still in custody at the time of her confinement, she will not be able to use the mother and baby unit at Holloway Prison if it is being used by other prisoners; supports Amnesty International's view that the possible decision to separate mother and child would damage permanently the mother-child bonding relationship; supports the view that if the extradition application is successful, the child should, if the mother so desires, accompany her to Germany; calls upon the Government to review urgently the conditions under which all Category A prisoners, whether convicted or on remand are held; remembering that no matter how grievous the crime for which they have been convicted or the charges which are levelled against them, their human rights too have to be respected and treated with dignity; and believes that it is a measure of society's humanity how those who have offended or alleged to have offended against society are treated whilst held in custody. .]
It concerns the case of Roisin McAliskey, who is eight months pregnant and has been detained in Holloway since November. Many people have never understood why the extradition proceedings she faces could not have been brought in Northern Ireland, where she lives. There is 1053 increasing concern that her continued detention and the state of her health represent a victory for personal and political vengeance over natural justice and compassion. Will the Leader of the House have urgent discussions with the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary to find a way to release this young woman from prison on bail—considerable sureties have been offered—or to transfer her to Northern Ireland, where she will at least be near her family and friends?
§ Mr. Newton
The hon. Gentleman will have noted that the Minister of State, Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), is in her place and has heard what he has said. However, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary considers that the conditions under which category A prisoners are held are the minimum required to prevent their escape, and has no plans to change them significantly.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Will the Leader of the House ask the Defence Secretary or the Foreign Secretary to make a statement about NATO expansionist policies in eastern and central Europe, particularly after the Albright visit, because hon. Members of all political persuasions are worried about what is happening? Many of us believe that world peace is being threatened by people who do not understand what they are doing.
§ Mr. Newton
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's concerns will be noted, but I am not in a position to promise either a statement or a debate at this time.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Does the Leader of the House recall that some weeks ago I raised the delicate subject of Mohammed Al Fayed appearing before 1 million people on television, waving envelopes of money that he claimed explicitly were asked for and given to Members of Parliament? There was a significant statement from you, Madam Speaker, on the subject. I realise that it is difficult and that lawyers are involved, but is there any likelihood of the matter being brought to a head, so that the good name of Parliament can be maintained?
§ Mr. Newton
As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, you, Madam Speaker, made an important statement following his previous raising of the matter. However, particularly bearing in mind my position as Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges and some of the matters that are with the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards, I cannot add much to what you said, Madam Speaker, or comment beyond what I said previously.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
When may we have a debate on the deteriorating quality of parliamentary answers, including the one I received yesterday from the Leader of the House, who said that he could not possibly inform me which were the most expensive answers to parliamentary questions for which calculations had already been made, yet the Library could tell me within about two minutes?
In 1989 I tabled a question asking Baroness Thatcher to list the failures of her reign as Prime Minister. The answer was disappointingly brief and probably cost about 1054 30p. However, a pursuant answer from the former hon. Member for Pembroke filled 23 columns of Hansard and cost £4,500. How can the Government persist with the excuse of disproportionate cost, and why is it beyond the wit or ability of the Minister's Department to provide me with the other nine most expensive answers which I am sure were given to other Conservative Members?
§ Mr. Newton
If I remember rightly, because I looked carefully at the question—I rewrote the answer myself and must therefore take complete responsibility for any deficiencies in it—the hon. Gentleman was asking for information over a 12-year period. I think that he underestimated the sheer practical problems of doing what he wanted.
§ Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 504 in my name?
[That this House regrets the waste of taxpayers' money involved in the Child Support Agency advertising campaign throughout the Greater Manchester area; notes that on 12th February the Advertising Standards Authority published a report stating that the claim made in one advertisement 'Dear Parent, Even after you pay maintenance you will always have more income if you are in work' was not an acceptable claim and that the advertisers have been asked not to use the claim again; notes further that the report made by the Advertising Standards Authority is a carefully considered decision following a reconsideration of their original decision; and therefore calls upon the Government to refrain from publishing any further inaccurate advertisements relating to the Child Support Agency and instead to start using taxpayers' money for a much needed nationwide advertising campaign directed at encouraging the take-up of income-related benefits amongst pensioners.]
There has been a misleading campaign by the Child Support Agency in the Greater Manchester area. As the Advertising Standards Authority has asked the CSA not to repeat the claim, may we have an urgent debate on the matter?
§ Mr. Newton
The answer to the latter point is no. As the hon. Lady is obviously aware, the Advertising Standards Authority report is the subject of an appeal by the Department of Social Security, which takes the view that the report failed to recognise the way in which the benefits system operates.