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Mr. Parkinson : As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, my Department has no standing in this matter. It is now a matter between British Gas, the regulator and the Department of Trade and Industry which is responsible for consumer affairs.
I note what my hon. Friend has said and I shall bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
Mr. Rees : Will the Secretary of State consider that the Burgoyne report was issued 14 years ago? The Labour Energy Minister at the time decided not to bring energy and oil work within the scope of the Health and Safety Commission. That was a long time ago, and in view of the accidents that have taken place, is the Secretary of State saying that he is completely happy with the arrangement made following Burgoyne? Would it not be better to think again?
Mr. Parkinson : I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that Burgoyne was 10 years later than he suggests. The arrangements have not been in place since 1971. I think they have been in place since 1981. We have already made it clear that we are not interested in defending the status quo. We are interested in North sea safety. Lord Cullen is looking at the whole background to the Piper Alpha disaster, and if he makes any recommendations we shall take them very seriously indeed.
Mr. Michael Spicer : Different groups of scientists claim to have observed nuclear fusion in simple apparatus at room temperature. Experiments are under way by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, and in laboratories and universities worldwide, to reproduce and understand the effects that have been reported.
Mr. Fishburn : Will my hon. Friend consider diverting some of the huge amounts of Government money that are spent on research into high- temperature fusion into low-temperature or cold fusion, on the understanding that although there is no clear result yet, any such result would unlock a source of energy which would be vastly cheaper, safer and more usable for future generations than the present nuclear fusion?
Mr. Spicer : We have yet fully to assess the findings of Professors Pons and Fleischman. However, I understand that early attempts to reproduce any form of nuclear reaction have been disappointing. Some explanations suggest that the two scientists created a chemical rather than a nuclear reaction. Scientists at Harwell have yet to give their conclusions on the matter and until they do it is difficult for me to argue that any extra resources should be diverted to this research project.
15. Dr. Michael Clark : To ask the Secretary of State for Energy how many nuclear power stations he envisages being decommissioned in the next five years ; and what provision is being made for the eventual demolition and disposal of the constituent parts.
Mr. Michael Spicer : Decommissioning of nuclear power stations is an operational matter for the CEGB. The board makes appropriate provision for decommissioning in its annual accounts. This amounted to £568 million at 31 March 1988.
Dr. Clark : Does my hon. Friend agree that, inevitably, when power stations are decommissioned there is radioactive waste, and that it is only logical that Conservative Members who support nuclear energy should also support the creation of repositories for nuclear waste? So that new orders can be placed for further power stations, will my hon. Friend ensure that a site for a repository is found quickly, so that it can be built without any undue delay?
Mr. Spicer : Like my hon. Friend, we recognise the need for progress to be made in the development of a repository, but I am sure that he will agree that this must be on the basis of a proper assessment of the safety and environmental factors. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment confirmed on 21 March that the Government have accepted Nirex's recommendations that the repository should be in the form of a mine under the land, and that further investigation should be carried on at Sellafield and Dounreay. This work is expected to take about 18 months to complete and until then, Nirex will not be in a position to submit proposals or to seek the necessary approvals through the normal planning procedures.
Mr. Cohen : Should the Chancellor be abolished as obsolete, or would he prefer more questions to be addressed to him--for example, questions about the appointment of magistrates to enforce the poll tax? will not his JP appointee be making large sums out of the poll tax while clipping the wages and benefits of, and perhaps sending to prison, people who will lose hundreds of thousands of pounds? Is not the best way forward the abolition of both the Chancellor's post and the poll tax?
Mr. Newton : I am not sure that I would welcome more questions like that one. I would welcome any assistance that the hon. Gentleman cares to give me in fulfilling my duty and my clear purpose in ensuring a fair and balanced administration of justice, and in appointing magistrates, in the areas for which I am responsible.
Mr. Marlow : I am sure that my right hon. Friend is very jealous of his Duchy. Can he explain to the House how it is that the European Community has acquired competence over the quality of water in Blackpool? I should have thought that this was a matter for the people of Blackpool, if they want to secure a decent tourism trade, or, if not, for this House. Could my hon. Friend tell the House how we are to get that competence back?
Mr. Newton : I should perhaps first make it clear that it is not my Duchy but that of Her Majesty the Queen, who is also the Duke of Lancaster. As to the quality of water, I would regard my interest as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster as being the same as that of anyone concerned with any other part of the country, which is to ensure a high quality of water. That is the aim of the Government's policies.
Mr. Marshall : Is there not scope for women to serve the Church in other ways? Is it not high time that a decision was made over women priests, especially as women are effective preachers and are likely to be even more conscientious than men in their pastoral duties?
Mr. Alison : I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's championing of the cause of women in the Church of England ministry. He will know that there are already about 500 women deacons in post in the Church of England, and they do marvellous work. However, the ordination of women measure is unlikely to come before the General Synod until 1992, which will be after the next General Synod is elected in 1990.
59. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what is (a) the salary of the highest paid official employed by the Church Commissioners, (b) the average per capita salary of employees and (c) the average clerical stipend.
Mr. Alison : The highest salary paid to a full-time officer of the Church Commissioners is currently £50,600, equivalent to Civil Service grade 2. The average salary of the Commissioners' 350 full-time employees is £14,800 and the average stipend of clergy of incumbent status in the Church of England is £8,900 plus largely tax-free benefits in kind averaging around £5,750.
Mr. Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is some inequity? Bearing in mind that the Archbishop of Canterbury is paid £31,870 and the Bishop of Durham £22,745, plus palace--[ Hon. Members :-- "Too much."] Some of my colleagues say, "Too much." Will my right hon. Friend undertake to persuade the Church Commissioners to examine these matters with a view to considering whether they are using their assets equitably and fairly, bearing in mind that the parishes alone will pay the new general secretary of the Synod £50,000? What about setting up advice centres for bishops such as the Bishop of Aston, who has fallen on his nose in a rather tragic way while trying to organise a visit for Archbishop Tutu? Should not the Bishop of Aston have help and could not the commissioners provide such help?
Mr. Alison : My hon. Friend must keep these matters in reasonable proportion. It costs about £400 million a year to keep the Church of England running. That sum is largely contributed by people from the parishes, as well as past donors and benefactors. The scale of renumeration for the top administrators, either in the General Synod or the Church Commissioners, is not out of scale given the extent of their responsibilities and the budget that they have to administer.
Sir Peter Hordern (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission) : The Commission last met on 6 December when, as I have previously informed the House, the main business was consideration of the estimates of the National Audit Office and the Northern Ireland Audit Office for 1989-90. The House may wish to know that the Commission's next meeting will be held tomorrow.
Mr. Allen : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, at the request of the Public Accounts Committee, the National Audit Office is examining the Government's advertising expenditure and the abuse or use of money to further the Government's aims. I now read in the newspapers that the National Audit Office is considering an advertising campaign to polish up its own image. Will
Column 15the hon. Gentleman ensure that the National Audit Office campaign is better value for money for the public than the current Government campaign?
Sir Peter Hordern : I cannot comment on the Government's publicity. I understand that the National Audit Office has recently engaged the services of consultants to give advice on its external communications strategy, especially to assist in its recruitment effort in a highly competitive market. If I may say so, it is essential that the National Audit Office should be able to call upon good and qualified staff in the same way that every other major organisations can.
Mr. Tim Smith : Can my hon. Friend confirm that when he or the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee receives any communication from whatever quarter suggesting a matter for inquiry by the National Audit Office, or making allegations of fraud, corruption, bribery or anything else, it is absolutely the standard practice on receipt of such communications for them to be referred directly to the NAO? Does my hon. Friend agree that when The Observer attaches such great importance to allegations sent by a senior privy councillor to the NAO about commissions paid as part of the Tornado contract, it wildly exaggerates the significance of something that the Chairman of the PAC does with every allegation of this sort that he receives?
Sir Peter Hordern : I can only confirm that all serious matters concerned with fraud and allegations of that sort are referred to the National Audit Office and the Comptroller and Auditor General. I have no knowledge of the specific matters that my hon. Friend has mentioned and they would seem to be more matters for the Chairman of the PAC.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Will the hon. Gentleman ask that the issue of articles that appear in The Observer relating to the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee be placed on the agenda of the Commission? Is he aware that The Observer has fabricated articles about the proceedings of our Committee? It has been warned that what it is saying is inaccurate yet it has persisted in printing. Even as late--
Even as late as yesterday The Observer published a leader which reiterated mistakes and falsifications that it has published previously.
Sir Peter Hordern : I do not like to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I fear that the Public Accounts Commission deals with very mundane matters such as salaries, terms and conditions of the staff of the National Audit Office, and so on, whereas the exciting things go on in the Public Accounts Committee of which the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) is Chairman, and who is in a better position to answer such questions than I am.
Mr. Marlow : Subsequent to the second question asked by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), does my right hon. Friend agree that if by spending money on advertising the sale of privatisation share issues, the
Column 16price of those issues is increased by more than the cost of the advertising, that is good marketing? If the hon. Member for Nottingham, North is against marketing, why does he sport that wretched red rose all the time?
Sir Peter Hordern : Such matters are far outside the very mundane considerations with which the Public Accounts Commission has to deal. However, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House heard my hon. Friend's question and will answer it in due course.
61. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Lord President of the Council how many private Members' Bills presented (a) as a result of a Member being in the first 20 in the ballot for private Members' Bills and (b) behind the Chair have been enacted in each of the past five Sessions ; what were the figures for 1979-80 and 1969-70 ; and if he will make a statement.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : As the full answer is in the form of a table and contains a number of figures, I will, with permission, arrange for it to be published in the Official Report. I would add, however, that in each of the Sessions mentioned in the question the number of private Members' ballot Bills enacted has exceeded the number enacted following introduction under Standing Order No. 58.
Mr. Greenway : Has not the time come to devolve more power to the Back Benchers of this House, bearing in mind that there are about 4, 000 laws on the statute book, almost exclusively contributed--if that is the right word--by the Government? In particular, could the private Members' Bill procedure be more open, and would my right hon. Friend support the requirement that those right hon. and hon. Members who object to private Members' Bills stand in their place and say "I object" loud and clear?
Mr. Wakeham : Procedural changes such as my hon. Friend suggests are for the Select Committee on Procedure to examine and it is not for me to make off-the-cuff suggestions at the Dispatch Box. Objection at 2.30 pm on Friday, which is contentious, is objection to a Bill being given a Second Reading without debate. That point is significant and should be borne in mind.
Mr. Burns : Does my right hon. Friend agree that more private Members' Bills would stand a chance of progressing on to the statute book if non-contentious, non-party-political Bills having all-party support-- such as the Control of Litter (Fines) Bill--were not objected to on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who is a member of a political party that says it cares about the environment?
Mr. Wakeham : Yes. I appreciate my hon. Friend's disappointment, but the procedures are well known to right hon. and hon. Members, many of whom accept that no one should object if a Bill dealing with a contentious matter is opposed at 2.30 pm on a Friday, when its principles have not been debated. However, I feel sure that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House
Column 17would be supportive of any measures to tackle the problems of litter--as are the Government, subject of course to consideration of their practicalities.
Mr. Dobson : Will the Leader of the House confirm that the bulk of Bills to which objection is made from a sedentary position every Friday are objected to by a Government Whip who is deployed to do that--usually the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones)? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that it would be better if right hon. and hon. Members were required to rise and declare their identity when objecting to a Bill?
Mr. Wakeham : That is right, but I expect the behaviour of right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench to be different from that of right hon. and hon. Members who are disappointed that their own Bills will not pass. I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that the procedure for objecting to Bills under the present Government is exactly the same as it was under the Labour Government.
The information is as follows :
|Ballot Bills |Bills presented under SO |58<1> ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1969-70 |5 |4 1979-80 |5 |3 1983-84 |10 |1 1984-85 |11 |4 1985-86 |11 |7 1986-87 |6 |5 1987-88 |9 |2 <1> Not including Lords Bills taken charge of under SO 58(3).
Mr. Wakeham : We had a useful debate on this subject on 20 April, during which I said that the views expressed would require detailed and considered reflection. As a result I will be considering with the usual channels and others the scope for an agreed package of procedural changes which might be brought forward in time for the next Session.
Mr. Skinner : Will the Leader of the House bear in mind that it is recognised on both sides of the House that there is now widespread abuse of private Bill procedure to get through legislation that would otherwise fall foul of planning laws and inquiries at local government level? In some instances, junkets are being arranged. Members of Parliament--on one occasion, many Tory Members--are called upon to vote and then go to a beanfeast. Almost the entire Cabinet went into the Lobby to support the Associated British Ports (No. 2) and North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bills, including the Prime Minister, who turned up in her carpet slippers at 10 o'clock.
Column 18Surely when there is that kind of widespread abuse it is high time that things were altered. Is it not true that the right hon. Gentleman was preparing to give some consideration to the matter in our debate a few weeks ago, but the Prime Minister coincidentally answered a question about 10 minutes before he rose to speak and he changed his brief?
I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the private Bill procedure. I know that he popped in for only a few minutes on the occasion that he mentioned, and therefore did not give the matter his usual careful attention. Any private Bill would fail if it sought to give additional powers to the Government, because it would no longer be a private Bill ; a private Bill that seeks to give additional powers to a commercial undertaking is a matter for the House to decide. The Government see no case for opposing such a Bill unless it conflicts with Government policy, which does not apply to the Bills referred to by the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Rowe : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the case of a private Bill to be introduced reasonably soon, there is considerable disquiet at the possibility of compulsory purchase procedures being used for the purchase of more land than the proposers strictly need? There is a danger of that land being sold on at a profit, when any profit rightly belongs to those whose land has been compulsorily expropriated. When he considers private Bill procedures, will my right hon. Friend take that carefully into account?
Mr. Spearing : Does the Leader of the House accept that the debate to which he referred revealed widespread agreement on both sides of the House about three matters : first, that a private Bill's preamble must be approved ; secondly, that it must not raise issues relating to public policy and purpose ; and, thirdly, that preliminary proceedings of an appropriate kind should be completed before the Bill is presented?
Is there no possibility of such criteria being incorporated in the Standing Orders for private business? Would that not have the advantage of avoiding future legislation on the matter? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider looking at the Standing Orders with a view to implementing what I consider to be a widespread view on both sides of the House?
Mr. Wakeham : I agree with part, but not all, of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I have already said that I will consider those matters. I agree that there have been instances of promoters trying it on, but that is not to say that I think that the private Bill procedure should never deal with planning matters. When statutory changes are to be made, it seems to me sensible that some planning matters associated with them should be dealt with at the same time.
Column 19any planning inquiry? Does he consider it significant that Opposition Members wish to give up powers and cede influence to planning inspectors?
Mr. Wakeham : I would not like to draw a comparison, but those who say that the private Bill procedure is necessarily less fair than a planning inquiry are selling the private Bill procedure short. I believe that by and large it does a very good job.
Mr. Foot : Since it seems to be part of the right hon. Gentleman's original complaint that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) turned up a little late on one of these occasions, could he not arrange that we would never start private Members' business without my hon. Friend being given the chance to be here to assist in the proceedings?
Mrs. Clwyd : Surely the Lord President agrees that in the case of the Felixstowe dock Bill the whole thing was a fix. The promoters of the Bill were very large contributors to the Tory party. The Member of Parliament for the area
Column 20was then the chairman of the Tory party. The champagne reception at the end was quite clearly organised as a treat for those who supported the Bill. Surely the Lord President agrees that our Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure said that there was widespread abuse of the system, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) pointed out. Apart from any other consideration, objectors to Bills are at a grave disadvantage compared with the promoters. Furthermore, the taxpayer is losing vast sums of money. The promoters are being charged only a very small amount of money for bringing their Bills before the House instead of the £10,000 that each promoter should be paying, as recommended by the Committee.
Mr. Wakeham : To take the hon. Lady's last point, which is the only point on which I agree with her, the charges need to be looked at. That is one of the recommendations in the Select Committee's report. I reject entirely her other suggestion. One of the reasons for the Select Committee's report was that it was inconvenient for certain hon. Members to serve on Private Bill Committees. That presented us with a problem. I think that the hon. Lady knows about the point to which I refer.
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