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Mr. Hurd : On the first point, we have had a debate on the White Paper, and there will of course, be long debates on the Bill when it comes before the House. I considered whether to do this in a written statement but the Opposition would have protested if I had. I apologise again for the length of what I had to say.
Professor Peacock commented last week on the basis of press reports. We were in touch with him later in the week
Column 716to explain that those reports were so incomplete as to be misleading. It is now for him to say what he thinks about the proposals.
Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (Kincardine and Deeside) : May I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) said about Conservative Members welcoming the flexibility that our right hon. Friend has shown and the modifications that he has made? While obviously we want to follow through and work out the implications, especially of competitive tendering, does my right hon. Friend appreciate that those of us who come from areas with small, independent companies are still concerned because the present system has not worked badly in reflecting the quality and the character of those areas and we are left feeling nervous that price may still be the ultimate determinant of who gets the tender? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the financial position of those companies when compared with some of the large companies that serve the much more populated areas of this country? The possibility of a dual franchise, which would make competition more difficult, given the resources of those companies, means that we remain concerned. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that point a little further in relation to competitive tendering and price being the ultimate determinant. Finally, we in Scotland very much welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend is removing the burden on companies in Scotland that have to pay for subsidising Welsh programmes when they already finance Gaelic programmes in Scotland. I thank my right hon. Friend very much for that.
Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I know of his anxieties because he has expressed them to me. We have had very much in our minds the anxieties of some of the smaller companies. That is very important. The decision has not yet been taken about transmission costs, which weigh heavily on a company such as Grampian. When we move forward to that consideration, we shall bear in mind what my right hon. Friend has said.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : Will the Home Secretary accept that he has no need to apologise for the length of his statement, but much more need to apologise for the fact that it was nothing more than a vacuous homily? There was no substance in it. Why did he speak about "substantial, reasonable proportions"? Why did he not tell us what the performance bond will be? Why did he not say specifically that there will be no dual ownership? Why does he not say specifically that quality will be the real test when awarding the franchises, not cash?
Mr. Hurd : I thought that my statement was so precise and detailed as to verge on the tedious, but not on the empty. There is of course a limit to the extent to which Parliament or a Bill should decide all these matters in detail. Parliament is not the regulatory authority. We must leave a certain amount to the ITC, and I have explained exactly what that is.
The statement that I made some weeks ago about ownership was of a tight regime corresponding to the views expressed by many people, including the Opposition. We do not believe that it is right for the same franchisee, the same holder, to own two large companies or to own two companies that are next door to each other. But we do not exclude--I do not think it would be reasonable to do
Column 717so, if we want the small companies to survive--the possibility of someone holding one large and one small franchise.
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : My right hon. Friend has received much advice about the future of broadcasting, not least from the Select Committee on Home Affairs and its report on the future of broadcasting and the funding of Channel 4. I thank him for his generous remarks about my Committee's report and for the pleasure it gives members of the Committee to know that the financial guarantee is to be there to enable Channel 4 to continue with its diverse programming and important remit. May I ask my right hon. Friend to comment on why he has chosen a trust as opposed to option two? In respect of Channel 3 licences, I appreciate his comments about preserving diversity and the tests that he now proposes. Will he agree that the reserve power given to the ITC must be firmly defined it it is to be effective?
Mr. Hurd : To answer my hon. Friend's final point, the House will wish to look at the wording carefully. We have not yet put it in statutory language. I have made it clear that it should be exceptional and that it should be public. One of the problems with the present system is that the decisions are like those of the oubliette--at one moment everybody is there, with the franchise holders all together, and at the next moment somebody has disappeared with no reason or explanation given and no redress. That is not, in our view, a satisfactory system.
To answer my hon. Friend's question about Channel 4, it was felt that there was a difficulty, familiar in other contexts, between having the same agency--in this case the ITC--owning and regulating Channel 4. So there should be a separation between ownership and regulation. But, equally, we decided, partly in the light of the report of my hon. Friend's Committee, that it would not be sensible to go for total privatisation--that is, option one--so we happened on the concept of a trust, which I think fits the need.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye) : Is it not a fact that in the spheres of programme quality, diversity of choice and regional sensitivity the fatal flaw in what the Home Secretary has announced today, and to which others have referred, is the lack of definition in his statement? Phrases such as "public interest," "exceptional circumstances" and "quality thresholds" are not clearly defined. Indeed, in one case he tells us that they are to be the subject of judicial review. There is not much safeguard in that in terms of the awarding of franchises and the upholding of commitments given.
I particularly underscore the anxiety expressed by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) about the future of the Scottish regional companies, for which there will be little reassurance because the Home Secretary merely expresses some sympathy for the sentiment that we should retain existing regions, if possible.
The bottom line of the right hon. Gentleman's statement is that the only cast-iron guarantees he has given are in terms of cash for the Treasury and business for the lawyers, with the interests of the broadcasters and viewers being out of sight, if not out of mind.
Column 718constantly in the House and in Acts of Parliament. They are familiar to regulatory authorities and to the courts. The House will of course want to look at the phrases, and that is natural, but there is nothing particularly obscure or opaque about them.
As for the map, we propose--I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will agree with this--that it is not sensible for the House or for the law of the land to set in concrete for ever the map of broadcasting companies. It is not there now in the law and it would be absurd to suppose that it would be sensible to put it in primary legislation. It should be left, as we propose, to the ITC, and therefore I chose my words carefully. We noticed with understanding that the chairman-elect of the ITC said--I think the hon. Gentleman would agree--that, as far as possible, he sees advantage in retaining the present map.
Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey) : I warmly welcome the majority of the statement. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on listening so fully to all the representations. That is most welcome, especially in the context of matters such as broadcasting.
I wish to ask my right hon. Friend three brief questions. The first relates to the quality of assessment, which is now so crucial in the awarding of contracts. As he did not mention regional commitment, regional programming or regional viewers, will he comment on them? Secondly, with regard to the ITC's reserve power under a performance bond, will the bond be of a significant size relative to the areas in which it is located--for example, a smaller bond for the smaller companies in the smaller areas? Thirdly, has my right hon. Friend given any further thought to the ownership of transmitters and transmission? He will recall that that is a matter of considerable concern. While I accept the present point of view, there are considerable overlaps in the existing map to which, quite frankly, the transmission issue is linked.
Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose three questions are much to the point. The White Paper already gives a clear commitment to the regional content of Channel 3 programmes. What I announced today was in addition to that commitment and, for the first time, it includes a proportion of regional production. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that the size of the bond will be fixed by the ITC, but it will vary according to the franchise under discussion. We are considering transmission costs and the system of transmission. When we have decided what should be included in the Bill, I shall inform the House.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : Is the Home Secretary aware that he has said nothing to allay the genuine fear of virtually all those involved in broadcasting that he is presiding over a virtual collapse of programme standards? How will what he has proposed improve programme standards in any way? Will the competing companies have to publish their programme proposals in detail? How will the controlling mechanism work? How can it be that he rejects outright commercialism for Channel 4 as being in conflict with programme standards, but appears to think that outright and unbridled commercialism for Channel 3 will guarantee programme standards?
Column 719what his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said and to which I have responded.
On the question of quality threshold, an applicant will come forward and after the ITC has given an illustration of what variety and diversity should mean for that particular franchise the applicant can put forward his proposals. The ITC will then judge whether the quality threshold has been passed, and, if so, the undertakings that have been given will be incorporated in the licence.
The question of commercialism and programme standards is a matter of balance. We are not suggesting that every channel should be like the BBC or Channel 4. We aim to strike a balance, with the BBC--which has not been dealt with today--remaining as the cornerstone, and with Channel 4 preserving its remit--under the arrangements that I announced today it can clearly preserve its remit, and that has been the issue--although with a lighter touch and an increased choice with respect to Channels 3 and 5. That is the balance that we seek to strike.
Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has gone a long way towards meeting objections both about the auction process for Channel 3 and the future of Channel 4? I hope that he will not pay too much attention to the Opposition's churlish and grudging response ; they seem to be incapable of taking "yes" for an answer.
Will my right hon. Friend deal with one point that was not dealt with in his statement? Has he given any further thought to cross-media ownership and the restrictions on that with respect to Channels 3 and 5?
Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to my right hon. and hon. Friends in general for their reception to matters to which many of them have devoted a great deal of thought. In a written answer last month I set out a rather complicated set of proposals on cross-media ownership, to which I refer my hon. Friend. If I were to attempt to repeat them out of my head, I might get some of them wrong. We accept the need for tight controls and restrictions on cross-ownership not only between holders of terrestrial franchises, but between holders of terrestrial franchises and the press.
Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : Is the Home Secretary aware that the international hucksters will laugh at the idea of forfeiting a substantial bond? Is he aware that what he has announced is exactly what happened with TV-am--the ITV breakfast-time programme--which was launched with a fanfare of big names and all sorts of promises but rapidly deteriorated into trivia and trash once the Australians took it over? That is what will happen again. Faced with the prospect of putting on quality programmes that will not sell much advertising or trash that will, the hucksters will immediately forfeit the substantial bond to keep the franchises.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : Will my right hon. Friend accept that the discarding of the proposals to impose a levy will be most welcome and that the proposed alternative financial arrangements will be much more acceptable to the ITV companies? Will he accept, too, that
Column 720the exceptional circumstances provision, under which, and only under which, any bid would be rejected by the ITC, will go a long way to meet many of the fears that have been expressed?
I shall ask my right hon. Friend three quick questions. Further to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw), when my right hon. Friend defines the legislation for the quality threshold will he include specific reference to certain kinds of programming, particularly children's programmes?
Secondly, I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has announced the establishment of a public trust rather than any of the previous suggested options for Channel 4. However, does he really think that it is right for the independent companies, which will no longer have any vested interest in Channel 4, to have to underwrite Channel 4? Thirdly, the announcement concerning ITV night hours is most welcome. May we hope that that line of thought will be extended to BBC night hours?
Mr. Hurd : I have a lot of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says about children's programmes. I believe that it will be difficult to specify in legislation all the different kinds of programmes which could make up variety, quality and diversity and, therefore, a good deal will have to be left to the ITC. However, that is a matter to which we shall certainly return.
I understand my hon. Friend's point about Channels 3 and 4. It is right that there should be some underwriting--limited, as we propose--of Channel 4 to ensure that the remit can be maintained. It is reasonable that the ITC should, as I suggested, draw to that limited extent on Channel 3. My hon. Friend will have noticed, however, that the safeguards are there.
I know my hon. Friend's view on the night hours, which is a matter that needs now to be considered. We have had many reactions to the original proposal, to which we must now turn our attention, and give the House our views when we can.
Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford) : I welcome generally the Home Secretary's statement. It emphasises that, first, there will be greater transparency in the way in which licences are allocated to firms, and, secondly, that there will be greater competition. Will the Secretary of State consider the system that applies in the Republic of Ireland whereby those who-- [Interruption] --yes, I am recommending something from the Republic of Ireland--whereby those who apply for licences must present their case and answer questions in public before the licensing authority so that the public at large have a greater idea as to the basis on which a licence is allocated? On the question of competition, will the Secretary of State bear in mind that what has been said by colleagues from Scotland on both sides of the House about regional problems apply in Northern Ireland? We would not like to see dual ownership. We would like to see emerge a company that is truly representative of the traditions of Northern Ireland- -Protestant and Catholic, Unionist and Nationalist.
Mr. Hurd : I have much sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman said about Ulster television, which is important to the life of the Province. I note what he says about public hearings, but I am not sure whether it would be sensible to embody that as a requirement in legislation.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : Is it not clear from my right hon. Friend's statement that this is a Government who bring forward radical proposals for the benefit of consumers, take stock of comment from interested parties, listen and bring forward a reformed package in light of the representations made? I am sure that what my right hon. Friend has said will end a great deal of uncertainty within ITV currently.
Is my right hom. Friend aware that last week, at a symposium hosted by the Independent Television Association and chaired by Sir Alan Peacock, the concept of having a franchise awarded by competitive auction was considered feasible, provided there were adequate safeguards to prevent over-bidding? Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the arrangements that he has introduced will achieve that objective? Does he further agree that, with the Channel 3 franchises, it will be much better to leave maximum flexibility in the hands of the ITC when drafting the legislation rather than specifying far too much and thus creating a straitjacket?
With regard to Channel 4, has my right hon. Friend given further consideration to the question of cross-promotion of Channels 3, 4 and 5?
We need to consider the cross-promotion point, but it is difficult to lay it down in legislation. I have said something about the cross announcements that will be necessary between Channels 3 and 4. Several Hon. Members rose- -
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : I recognise that the Home Secretary has listened to and even accepted much of the critical evidence he received on the White Paper. He has failed to act, however, on some of the crucial points precisely because he still seems reluctant to define his terms. Will he tell the House what the exceptional circumstances are under which the chairman of the ITC can refuse the highest bid?
On specific programme requirements, does my right hon. Friend accept that the only way to ensure quality and diversity of programmes, covering children's programmes, documentaries, religious and educational programmes, is the current written detailed requirements? The general terms that he is continuing to propose are wholly inadequate and will not ensure such quality and diversity.
Mr. Hurd : I do not think that I can define exceptional circumstances, and it would be absurd to do so in advance. The House will note that there is a double instrument of control ; an instrument in the hands of the ITC, and an instrument in the hands of the Secretary of State acting on the recommendations of the ITC. The Secretary of State could act if, for example, money went into a bid which did not amount to foreign control--we could deal with that otherwise--but which might generate interests that were clearly hostile to this country or might mean that, in a particular part of our country, arrangements would be set up that would be clearly contrary to the public interest. It is reasonable to have both instruments.
Column 722There will be nothing vague in the franchise terms. They will be worked out in some detail and written down. The ITC will have substantially greater powers than the existing IBA to ensure that those terms are effectively enforced.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) : Does the Home Secretary agree that during the winter ITV1 took a lot of the market share away from BBC1 through investment in good quality drama and that that was a good commercial decision as it enabled ITV to sell its programmes abroad? Does he agree that the conclusion to be drawn is that there is no necessary conflict between quality of programming and the pursuit of commercial opportunity? With the growing sophistication of the audience, the two often go together.
Mr. Hurd : I am glad that my hon. Friend made that point. I am familiar with the argument that some of the ITV companies, if driven too hard, will spend much less money and produce cheap programmes only. I noticed from press reports that when those companies began to feel the wind a bit their reaction was to spend more on higher quality programmes.
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : Does the Home Secretary accept that our criticisms are not churlish but are based on the fact that some of us have television organisations within our constituencies? We are well aware that when the right hon. Gentleman lined up with George Russell and the ITV companies in their criticisms of the auction system, he was attacked by Right-wing ideologues, clustered around 10 Downing street. Despite his agonised squeal, "Get your tanks off my lawn", he has lost the battle, even though he has won some small victories which he has announced with great pride this afternoon.
In the main, the questions that he has said will be asked are these : "Have you got the capital?", Not "Have you got the talent?, and "What are you going to make?" which is 28.5 per cent. not good programmes.
Mr. Hurd : I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman's description of the very workmanlike discussions which we have had inside Government on this matter, nor, I think, will the House when hon. Members have studied what I have said. The hon. Gentleman misses the essential point. It is a double process. An application will come forward with programme plans and ideas to pass the quality and variety threshold. It is only after an applicant has done that--and it will be more difficult, it will be a higher test, as a result of today's announcement--that the length of his purse will become relevant.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with the franchise going to the highest bidder subject to a much strengthened overriding quality test and the ability of the Independent Television Commission not to award the contract to the highest bidder if it feels that that bidder is incapable of delivering the quality, we shall have a much simpler, clearer, fairer and more straightforward system of awarding franchises than the present somewhat opaque and oblique system? Do not the changes that my right hon. Friend has announced this afternoon demonstrate that he has clearly listened to what people have been saying over the past few weeks?
Column 723and tried to respond generally. I agree with what my hon. Friend said and would simply add something about the performance bond, which has not appeared in any of the press leaks. It will be a very important technique in helping the ITC to enforce quality.
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) : The announcements which the Home Secretary has made today are all very welcome and in the right direction, but the right hon. Gentleman will never get to the correct destination unless he abandons the original assumptions of the broadcasting White Paper. Praise has been lavished upon the Home Affairs Select Committee's report, which says that both ITV and BBC should have public service broadcasting traditions at their heart and that that would safeguard the system. Will the Home Secretary now accept that that was the correct recommendation and should be accepted?
Furthermore, will the Home Secretary think again about the situation in Scotland? It would be simply intolerable if the House did not have a say on the number of stations within Scotland and a Government-appointed quango was able to recommend that there be only one station within Scotland. Will the Home Secretary guarantee that the present three stations, or something very similar, will be maintained?
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Member talked about the original assumptions. The original assumption in the White Paper is that there is now an opportunity for a very big choice for the viewer. Instead of sitting on that and saying that they cannot have it because we are not sure that they would make the best use of it, we are trying to provide a framework within which the viewer can have increasing choice. We believe that, particularly as a result of the conclusions we have just come to, we can reconcile that with high quality. The hon. Gentleman is asking for something which has never existed before and which probably, on reflection, the House would not want--that the map should be settled by the House. It never has been before. There have been major changes in the past conducted and put through by the IBA. I do not think that it is a matter for primary legislation, and I have set out the present position.
Column 724subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing on Channels 3 and 5 will be mandatory and will be increased in the first year by 10 per cent. will be greeted as an enormous milestone and that there will be great thanks to him from that community for what he has done? Is he able to tell the House today what he regards as the next milestone in this and what pressure there will be on the ITC to ensure that the 10 per cent. increase does not become the entire increase?
Secondly, will my right hon. Friend accept that it would be thought wrong if the logic that has led him to announce today that the night time hours of Channel 3 will stay with the franchise holder for the day time did not lead him to leave the night time hours of the BBC with the BBC?
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is right on his first point ; we foresee a steady build-up of subtitling year by year. I note what my hon. Friend said on his second point. We have set out in the White Paper our notions about the BBC night hours and have noted the reaction. We have not yet turned to that matter, but we will have to do so.
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : The Home Secretary has said that he is in favour of increasing choice. Does he not accept that real choice for viewers will be diminished if small, locally based high quality companies such as Grampian Television do not survive? Why can he not assure the House that the exceptional power of the ITC to award a franchise to other than the highest bidder will be used to ensure the survival of companies such as Grampian?
Mr. Hurd : I do not think that it would be sensible or right to give any such assurance. I know the loyalty which the small companies attract from their viewers, and indeed from their Members of Parliament who live within their areas. That has been clear throughout these debates. However, I question whether the hon. Gentleman would be wise to suggest that the decisions about the map of television franchises should be enshrined in statute.
That the draft Design Right (Semiconductor Topographies) Regulations 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require employers to provide death-in-service insurance benefits for their employees ; and for connected purposes.
The main purpose of the Bill is to extend the obligation on employers to insure their employees against death or injury at work. The existing scheme was introduced in 1969 and now covers the great majority of Britain's 22.5 million workers. The main difficulty with the present scheme, however, is that it still requires proof of negligence or fault on the part of an employer before a claim for compensation will be successful.
In most cases an injured employee, or his representative if the accident was fatal, will instruct a solicitor. The case will be intimated to the employers, who will pass the case to their insurers. There will be a period of haggling between solicitors and insurance companies. Many cases are settled at this stage. A great many are not and require legal proceedings.
Cases which do not go to court can take a great many months, sometimes even years, to settle. When they go to court cases certainly take years ; delays of seven or eight years are quite common. Even then there is still the problem of proving fault or negligence on the part of the employers. Many employers and their insurers escape liability on technical legal grounds. The whole system is a lottery.
One particularly graphic example of the difficulties which are experienced is the case of the mv Derbyshire, which sank in 1980 with the loss of the whole crew of 44. The representatives of those 44 crew members have been involved in litigation ever since. They have been unable to prove negligence and it is unlikely that they will ever receive proper compensation for their loss. Yet they have all lost a loved one--a loved one who, regardless of the question of fault or negligence, died in the service of his employer. No disaster fund was set up and there were no visits from dignitaries such as the Prime Minister. The dependants of those 44 crew members have had to cope with the trauma of the loss of a loved one without adequate compensation to help them adjust to their new circumstances. That is a scandal in anyone's terms.
I am a firm believer in a "no fault" liability scheme. However, time and again this Government have made it clear that they are not prepared to consider such a scheme, which operates extremely well in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
My Bill is a modest attempt to introduce some equity and justice into the very haphazard system of compensation for injury and death which our legal system has created. For the present I am restricting its operation to cases in which there is a death resulting from an accident or illness at work. The motivation for the Bill arises out of my involvement in pursuing compensation claims as a solicitor in Scotland and also out of my involvement in the aftermath of the Piper Alpha disaster, which affected so many of my constituents. On the Piper Alpha I discovered that of the 167 men who died 31 were employed by the operators, Occidental. Those men were covered by an insurance scheme that provided their relatives with an immediate payment of £100,000 in the event of the men's death in employment.
Column 726The relatives of the other 136 victims have had to go through the normal channels of instructing solicitors to pursue their claims, with all the uncertainty that that involves. To their credit, Occidental and their lawyers have done what they could to speed up the process of agreeing compensation claims and in most cases agreement has been reached, although payment has not yet been made. However, even this does not overcome the major problems for those who have lost a loved one. The time of most stress is immediately after the death. The survivors have to cope not only with the emotional stress of the loss, but, in most cases, with the financial loss. In the case of a young family, for example, where the loss of the main breadwinner can cause particularly serious financial problems, the difficulties are most acute.
We had a useful opportunity to discuss compensation and the anomalies involved earlier in the year when my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) introduced his Citizens' Compensation Bill. That Bill met with considerable hostility from the Government and I regret that the opportunity to deal with the real problems caused by the present system was missed.
It is not good enough to say to those families that they may have a legal right of action against an employer when that involves months, possibly years, of legal argument, financial outlay, considerably increased stress and no guarantee of success at the end of the day. My Bill attempts to deal with those problems in a novel way. In the first place, it would oblige employers to carry compulsory insurance to provide an immediate payment to the representatives of an employee who died as a result of an accident or illness at work. There would be no requirement for proof of negligence and the payments would be ignored when the court was considering any subsequent compensation claim. There would be criminal penalties for any employer who failed to carry full insurance cover, and the court would be empowered to make an order for the full amount required to be paid under the insurance.
The Bill provides that the amount of cover per employee should be determined by regulation. That is to allow for upgrading in future. At the moment, my view is that £25,000 of cover per employee would be appropriate. That figure is reasonable, it is not excessive compared with current awards by the courts and it would be relatively cheap from the employer's point of view.
It would be open to employers to choose to provide a higher level of benefit. Many choose to do so already. One set of figures that I have seen suggests that over 20 per cent. of the work force is covered by such a scheme on a voluntary basis.
More than 22.5 million people in employment in the United Kingdom would be covered by the scheme proposed in the Bill. According to the latest annual report of the Health and Safety Commission, there were, on provisional figures, 340 fatal injuries at work in the United Kingdom last year. Since 1981 there have been 2,895 cases. In our legal system, it is likely that the majority of those 2,895 cases, where there are grounds for compensation claims, will still be unresolved.
In the absence of a no-fault scheme, the problems of delay in the legal system will continue. My Bill will provide some immediate financial assistance for those in greatest need at a time when it is most needed.
I have described the Bill as a modest measure, and indeed it is. There will be no cost to the Government or the
Column 727public purse. The cost to the employers will be extremely small and, in most cases, negligible in their total employment costs. However, to those families who lose a loved one through a work- related cause it will be of the most enormous significance at a time of great stress and most need. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Frank Doran, Mr. Henry McLeish, Mr. Ian McCartney, Mr. Jimmy Hood, Dr. Lewis Moonie, Mrs. Maria Fyfe, Mr. Tony Worthington, Ms. Clare Short, Ms. Hilary Armstrong, Ms. Dawn Primarolo and Mr. Rhodri Morgan.
Mr. Doran accordingly presented a Bill to require employers to provide death-in-service insurance benefits for their employees ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 157.]
Local Government and Housing Bill
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to express again our real anger about the way in which the Bill has been dealt with. Notwithstanding the appalling mess that the Government made of the Housing Bill 1988, which is now the Housing Act, when they brought forward about 170 amendments, they have now increased that number to at least 197 amendments and new clauses. Many other amendments have been tabled by the Opposition and by Back Benchers from various parties in the House, bringing the number of amendments up to well over 300. Yet we are expected to deal with them on the Floor of the House.
I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the people outside the House expect Parliament to inspect legislation carefully. We usually do that in Committee. We did that in Committee, but we still have a Bill for which the selection list was not available until 7 pm yesterday. That is no criticism of the Clerks, who have worked incredibly hard, but not to have the selection list makes life difficult for all hon. Members.
In addition, we are anxious in that four new clauses and one amendment that I had hoped would be debated tomorrow have not been selected. I have tried to speak to the Clerks today, but they are not immediately available. In view of the pressure of work on the officials of the House, I understand why.
The Opposition's new clause 18 on ring fencing in part VI and new clause 17 in part VIII on the means-testing of grant are particularly important to us. I want to place on the record that, after the initial debates in which I shall be involved, I intend to discuss with the Clerks whether those can be selected for tomorrow. Similarly, new clauses 21 and 28, dealing with first-time house buyers, houses in multiple occupation and fire risk, about which I am also concerned, and amendment No. 199 in part VIII on the right of appeal when a person does not receive a grant are also important matters.
I recognise that your powers in this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are limited, but I stress to you, the Government, Parliament and the country that Parliament makes a mockery of its procedures if it spends months debating a Bill in Committee and then has only two days, starting at 5 o'clock this evening, to debate masses of amendments and new clauses, the vast majority of which have come from a Government who claim to know what they are doing. They clearly do not know what they are doing. The Bill is a mess, just as the Housing Bill was a mess. We are asked to put it right in just two short days on the Floor of the House and that is an insult to our parliamentary procedures.