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Mr. Parkinson : Yes. The programme for modernising and improving the electricity supply industry--both the generation and the distribution of electricity--will be a source of valuable business for British industry in the years ahead.
Mr. Bill Walker : Can my right hon. Friend say whether the contracts that are going out for the Sizewell B development contain any provision for air monitoring of nuclear fallout? If not, can he explain why measurements in my constituency over the weekend show a fallout of 40 times the Government's levels? There is considerable doubt about whether air monitoring is effective.
Mr. Peter Morrison : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has already informed Parliament that if the public inquiry can recommend improvements to the present safety regime, these will be accepted. I cannot speculate on the findings of the public inquiry.
Mr. Salmond : I thank the Minister for that assurance, but I should like to test its seriousness. Is the Minister aware that the National Union of Civil and Public Servants, the coastguard union, is submitting evidence to the Piper Alpha inquiry to the effect that the Peterhead coastguard station is an essential part of marine safety in the north-east of Scotland, and gives the flexibility to respond to major incidents? Is he aware that the Department of Transport is proposing to close that station, effectively prejudging the results of the inquiry and undermining the assurances that the Minister has just given? Will he undertake to contact the Department of Transport and his colleagues there to argue that any closure decision affecting Peterhead should be postponed until after the Piper Alpha public inquiry, and so validate the assurance that he has given us?
Mr. Doran : This morning, I had meetings with the widows and the survivors of the Piper Alpha tragedy, and they raised with me a matter that is of major concern to them, which is the recovery of items from the sea bed. I know that this matter has previously been raised with the Minister in the House, but it is of continuing concern to
Column 12these people. Has the Department any plans, or is it its intention, to undertake an internal investigation into the costs of raising the equipment that lies on the sea bed, and which will provide vital evidence for the inquiry in Aberdeen, and perhaps lead to the recovery of more bodies?
Mr. Morrison : As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend gave consent to the abandonment of the platform. The toppling has not taken place, and it would be premature to make any judgment until we have seen how the platform topples, albeit that the purpose of the toppling is that it should fall out from the debris so as to enable investigators to look at the debris in more safety. At this stage, I cannot give any undertaking in reply to his question, but I note what he says.
Mr. Michael Spicer : My Department has received nearly 30 representations about West Burton B from organisations and individual members of the public. I understand that discussions are continuing between the relevant local planning authorities and the CEGB about some matters concerning the proposed construction of the station. My officials have urged them to resolve the outstanding matters as soon as possible so that my right hon. Friend can proceed with his consideration of the CEGB's application.
Mr. Haynes : That Minister there will realise that something was said on the Floor of the House about having a coal-fired power station in Nottinghamshire at West Burton, but when we got upstairs in Committee, the Secretary of State, dodging his responsibilities, went in a different direction. I want a straight answer to a straight question. Are we going to have that station at West Burton, yes or no?
Mr. Spicer : The hon. Gentleman is obviously on form today. The straight answer to him is that my right hon. Friend, when he receives an application, has a quasi-judicial role in determining first whether there should be an inquiry and secondly what the decision should be. We have to wait for the CEGB or its successors to come up with an application.
In the case of West Burton, of the 43 conditions between local authorities and the CEGB, only one remains outstanding. We hope that these matters will be resolved so that we can determine the outcome of the application.
Mr. Cecil Parkinson : The Energy Efficiency Office promotes efficiency in the use of energy in buildings and industrial processes, by tackling market barriers and stimulating the market where it is slow to react.
Mr. Taylor : Will the Minister explain how cutting the budget of the Energy Efficiency Office by almost half fits in with the statement by the Prime Minister to the Royal Society that energy conservation is crucial to tackling the greenhouse effect?
Mr. Parkinson : The Government have decided to stop funding demonstration projects, because we already have enough, stop subsidising surveys, because hundreds of them have been done, stop general advertising and start to focus its budget much more on specific groups and areas and on spreading best practice. There is no conflict between the news that we are cutting expenditure in certain areas and the fact that we are still seriously promoting energy efficiency.
Mr. Rost : Will the Energy Efficiency Office organise the programme that my right hon. Friend recently announced for setting a good example in the public sector with cost-effective energy efficiency investment?
Mr. Parkinson : As my hon. Friend points out, the public sector is a major spender. A programme was inaugurated two years ago. It needs a further substantial boost, which it will receive in the weeks and months ahead, and the plans are currently being drawn up.
50. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what has been the level of abortive expenditure at the Millbank offices consequent upon the decision of the synod not to vacate Church house.
Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners) : As a result of the decisionof the general synod, the works at Millbank, which were well advanced at this time and which were specially designed to meet the needs of the general synod, have had to be replanned to make the space suitable for letting commercially. The cost of the abortive works involved will, on the present professional advice, be around £1.25 million.
Mr. Marshall : Will my right hon. Friend advise the House of the cost to the general synod of this decision? Does he agree that this rather expensive decision reflects a strange order of priorities? Would not the general synod be advised to consider the use of the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre?
Mr. Alison : The general synod will, in addition, have to pass on to the dioceses of the Church of England an annual bill of about £ million to pay a new rent liability at Church house which would have been offset if it had moved to Millbank. That is the equivalent cost of maintaining about 25 parish churches in action for a year. Against that background, I am convinced that the general synod reached an unwise decision, at least on cost-benefit grounds. The availability of the Queen Elizabeth II
Column 14conference centre would certainly have been one of the genuine and acceptable options available, if it had moved to Millbank.
Mr. Alison : So far as the state is concerned, we have a neutral view of the existence and prospects for the general synod. If the link between Church and state were severed, it would be entirely up to the Church of England to determine whether it were well served by the continuation of the general synod at Westminster.
51. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, how many clergymen were dismissed for failing to work hard enough in each of the past 10 years ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Greenway : Bearing in mind that my right hon. Friend and those whom he represents are responsible for the pay of bishops and clergy, is he satisfied that all bishops and clergy are working hard enough on legitimate matters? Will he bear in mind the recent harbouring of an illegal immigrant by a clergyman and agree that any member of the clergy or bishop who emulates that example of encouraging illegality should not remain in his post?
Mr. Alison : I note my hon. Friend's comments. I am quite sure that all Anglican clergy, indeed all Anglican diocesan bishops, will want to heed the advice given by the two archbishops that they should not aid or abet any individual or group who seeks to break the law.
Mr. Winnick : Leaving aside how it can be decided whether clergymen are working hard enough, would not a clergyman looking into the Chamber now and finding fewer than 50 hon. Members--five of them Ministers and three PPSs--present out of 650 conclude that we are not in a position to give lectures on the subject?
Mr. Alison : There may be very few people in the House at any one time, but very hard-working clergymen often find that there are very few parishioners in the pews. I do not think that that reflects on the amount of time and effort that a clergyman puts into preparing his sermon, or that Ministers put into replying to a thin House.
52. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, if he will make a statement about the provision of administrative offices by the Church authorities.
Mr. Alison : The Church Commissioners and the general synod will, for the foreseeable future, remain in their present office premises. The Church of England pensions board will be joining the Church Commissioners at their Millbank location in May this year.
Column 15expensive west end offices they should show real faith in the inner cities by selling both Church house and Millbank for over £50 million, and investing the proceeds in a move to an area of high unemployment such as my constituency?
Mr. Alison : The trouble is that if we took that line we could have as many as 650 parliamentary colleagues bidding for the relocation of the Church Commissioners' premises. It might be more politic for us to remain where we are.
Mr. Barry Field : To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission how much money has been expended by the National Audit Office on audit of the books and records of (a) the banana trade advisory committee, (b) the Black Country limestone advisory panel, (c) Government hospitality fund advisory committee for the purchase of wine, (d) the Marshall aid commemoration commission, (e) Red Sea Lights Company Ltd., (f) persons hearing estate agents appeals and (g) the wine standards board of the Vintners Company, over the most recent period for which figures are available.
Sir Peter Hordern (The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission) : Although the Commission is responsible under the National Audit Act for considering the estimates of the National Audit Office submitted by the Comptroller and Auditor General, the cost of particular audits that he carries out under his statutory duties is a matter for him. However, he has informed me that, of the bodies mentioned in my hon. Friend's question, he audits only the accounts of the Marshall aid commemoration commission. The cost of the audit of the 1986-87 account was £1,600.
Mr. Field : Does my hon. Friend not find it extraordinary that the Comptroller and Auditor General should be responsible for the auditing of such minor bodies, particularly the Marshall aid commemoration commission? Would it not be better if he were left, on behalf of Parliament, to concentrate on the really large audits, and private firms of auditors were responsible for such quangos?
Sir Peter Hordern : There is much in what my hon. Friend says. Of the bodies that he mentioned, however, only one is audited by the National Audit Office, and in that instance the full cost of the audit was recovered from the Marshall aid commemoration commission.
Sir Peter Hordern : The Commission last met on Tuesday 6 December, when the main business was consideration of proposed estimates for 1989-90 for both the National Audit Office and the Northern Ireland Audit Office.
Mr. Allen : Will the hon. Gentleman consider the potential deterioration in staffing levels in the Northern Ireland Audit Office? Will he undertake to write to the Comptroller and Auditor-General asking him to assess the staffing level statistics, and will he ask whether people who leave are interviewed to discover why they are leaving and whether those who return are interviewed to discover whether the career pattern in the office is sufficient to retain them in the long term?
Sir Peter Hordern : I will certainly write to the Comptroller and Auditor-General as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I should say that although there was indeed a staffing problem in the Northern Ireland Audit Office some time ago, the position has improved. When the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and I visited the office, along with one or two other hon. Members, we were told that there had been a distinct improvement in recruiting, which we hope will continue.
Mr. Gow : Have my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) considered the remuneration of the Comptroller and Auditor-General for Northern Ireland? If so, what conclusion has been reached?
Sir Peter Hordern : I am sorry to have to tell my hon. Friend that although we have indeed considered the remuneration of the Northern Ireland Comptroller and Auditor-General and have made a proposal, it has, alas, fallen on deaf ears within the Government. We shall have to return to the matter in due course.
55. Mr. Favell : To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission whether the Public Accounts Commission has recently discussed the cost implications of moving the headquarters of the National Audit Office to the north of England.
Sir Peter Hordern : As I told my hon. Friend on 23 May last year, the costs of the London headquarters buildings have been carefully considered in the past, both by the Committee of Public Accounts and the Commission. The National Audit Office employs 20 per cent. of its staff outside London. There have, however, been no recent changes in the location of Government Departments. The principal work of the National Audit Office remains at the London offices of the Government Departments and other bodies it is required to audit.
Mr. Favell : Does my hon. Friend agree that, with the drive from many Ministers to relocate in the north and with the expense of employing clerical labour in London, growing, it is time for the National Audit Office to up anchor and leave its office in Victoria?
Sir Peter Hordern : My hon. Friend's case would be a good one if it were not for the fact that so many Government Departments are still in London. The National Audit Office has to audit the London offices of the Government Departments. As, when and if Government offices are located in different parts of the country, there will be a good case for the National Audit Office to do likewise.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : On 19 January 1989, the latest date forwhich figures are available, a total of 9,976 photo-identity passes, giving access to all or part of the Palace of Westminster, were in issue.
Mr. Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that in view of the large number of passes currently in issue, it would be feasible to issue 70 or so passes so that all Members of the European Parliament, who are not currently eligible for a pass, could receive one, which would improve co- operation?
Mr. Wakeham : As you rightly say, Mr. Speaker, my hon. Friend raised a matter that, if you should select a certain amendment, will be right for debate this evening. As my hon. Friend knows, I have considerable sympathy for the point he makes.
Mr. Simon Hughes : Will the Leader of the House tell us how many of the 9,000-plus passes are category 30 passes for lobbyists? Does he take the view--this is not dealt with in the report--that their number should be reduced?
57. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Lord President of the Council what were the takings of the House of Commons kiosk in (a) the four weeks up to Christmas 1988 and (b) the 12 months up to Christmas ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Greenway : Will my right hon. Friend congratulate all concerned on those remarkable figures? Will he accept that most items sold at the kiosk are of a fattening nature and add to the weight of hon. Members, making many, including myself, overweight? A good use of the profits would be to build a swimming pool within the precincts of Parliament to enable hon. Members to help reduce their weight.
Mr. Wakeham : I usually agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend, but if he is overweight there are ways of reducing weight other than our building a swimming pool. He would have to take up the building of a pool with the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee.
Column 18fattened up for privatisation? If there are profits to be made, will the Government look more kindly, not towards providing swimming pools and all the rest, but to giving the profits to the staff who work in the kiosk and elsewhere?
Mr. Wakeham : What is done with the profits is a matter not for me but for the House of Commons Commission. The profits of the Catering Department are substantially used to assist with capital projects and to improve the services of the House. I note the hon. Gentleman's point.
Q.58. Mr. Spearing : If the Lord President does see the chairman of the GMC, will he draw his attention to statutory instrument No. 2255/88, which the Council of which the right hon. Gentleman is President has recently issued on the new rules--the first for eight years--of the preliminary proceedings committee and professional conduct committee of the GMC? Will he tell the chairman that there is considerable concern on both sides of the House, for good reason, about the proceedings of both the committees? Given that fact, does he think that it would be appropriate that any prayer against the statutory instrument should be debated on the Floor of the House?
Mr. Wakeham : I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's remarks to those whose concern they are. I remind him and the House, however, that the responsibility of the Lord President and the Privy Council is limited to approving, with or without modification, disciplinary procedures that are proposed by the GMC. New rules were approved on 21 December, and the Privy Council has no standing until such rules are made and submitted to it. The rules are currently being examined by a working party that was established by the GMC. The report of that working party will serve as a proper basis for discussion when it is available.
Sir Anthony Grant : Is my right hon. Friend aware that a tragic case that occurred in my constituency brought to my attention a number of cases of great concern and suffering throughout the country over the disciplinary arrangements for doctors? Will he convey that information to the chairman of the GMC when he next sees him? Is he aware that I would support the call for a debate on this important subject? The doctors cannot have it all their own way.
Mr. Wakeham : I recognise my hon. Friend's concern, and I know the case to which he refers. I shall refer his comments to the GMC. I must repeat that my task, and that of the Privy Council, is limited to considering the rules that it puts before us.
Mr. Dobson Will the Lord President arrange to meet the chairman of the GMC urgently to express to him the abhorrence that is felt throughout the country at the idea of buying and selling human organs? Will he say that even under this Government there are limits to the introduction
Column 19of commercialisation into medicine? Will he remind him and those who are proposing the implementation of the idea that at least Burke and Hare, the body snatchers, waited until people were dead?
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman is being less than his usual fair self. He knows well that I do not have any responsibility in these matters. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health has responsibility, and action has already been taken, including the calling for reports. The health authority is already examining the matter.
Mr. Wakeham : I shall give the hon. Member the answer that I would have given to the hon. Members for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) and for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachie) had they been present in the Chamber.
I refer the hon. Member to what I said on 19 January during business questions in reply to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). I am not very hopeful about this matter, at least not in the immediate future, but I am having a meeting shortly with some of his hon. Friends to discuss the position and to see whether there is any scope for progress.
Mr. Foulkes : I am most grateful to the Lord President. I shall pass on his answer. Does he agree with me, however, that it is extremely regrettable that a Committee of this place that should be set up has not been, and that the Scottish Office is the only Department of state that does not receive the scrutiny of a Select Committee? This is all because of what appears until now to have been the reluctance of the limited number of Scottish Conservative
Column 20Back Benchers to serve on the Committee. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there have been reports that in certain circumstances Scottish Conservative Back Benchers would now be willing to serve on such a Committee? In the light of that, will he renew and intensify his discussions with all parties concerned to ensure that the Committee becomes active and involved as quickly as possible?
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman knows that the Scottish Office is still subject to a fair amount of scrutiny by various Select Committees. I accept that that is not as good as a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, and I regret as much as the hon. Gentleman does the fact that we were unable to set one up. But I understand the reasons for that, and I and the House have accepted those reasons. As I told the hon. Gentleman--I am not sure whether he is encouraging or discouraging me--I propose next to talk to two of his senior colleagues who have some proposals to put to me. I believe that that is the sensible thing to do. I shall try to keep the atmosphere calm--I hope that the hon. Gentleman will, too--and we shall see whether there is a basis for proceeding.
Mr. Bill Walker : Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is time for thinking through the problem and understanding the difficulties that the Committee of Selection had? The Committee of Selection reflected, properly, the facts as they were. What is important is how we arrived at that position. We cannot find a solution to the problem until we examine carefully how the House arrived at that position. More important, it must be seen in the light of all the activities of the House as they affect the unitary Parliament and the Union.
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