Mr. Wilshire : Whatever the CAA might propose, will my hon. Friend assure the House that he has absolutely no proposals to increase the number of flights allowed out of Heathrow, or to do anything to increase night quotas or relax noise controls at Heathrow airport?
Mr. McLoughlin : I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently said that we will not increase the number of night flights from Heathrow. My hon. Friend's other two points are in our minds when we make decisions on practices at Heathrow airport.
Mr. Portillo : Light rail systems can play a part in improving public transport in some of Britain's cities. We will consider making available central Government grant to those which are expected to bring about reduced road congestion, environmental improvements and economic development.
Mr. Fearn : Does the Minister agree that restrictions on section 56 grants hamper progress on light railways? Does he further agree that light railways are required in our cities and towns, and required quickly?
Mr. Portillo : I cannot agree that our section 56 criteria are inhibiting investment. Only in October last year the Government were able to agree to the Manchester Metrolink, which is a £110 million project, financed and operated in the private sector, and which is likely to enjoy
Column 12a Government grant of about £40 million. Last year, we were also able to authorise investment in building a case for the South Yorkshire supertram.
It is important to make sure that the most cost-effective investment is being made. In some cities, it will be in light rail systems, while in others it might be in less glamorous options such as making the priority for buses more effective.
Mr. Tracey : My hon. Friend should be aware that my constituents would not wish him to be distracted by light railway systems from ensuring that the traditional Network SouthEast services are improved to their absolute maximum rather than building unnecessary roads in the London area.
Mr. Portillo : I assure my hon. Friend that I will not be distracted by light rail systems, but I hope that I will give them the consideration that they merit. Certainly, the fact that there will be a £1.2 billion investment programme in Network SouthEast over the coming three years suggests that we will not be distracted.
Mr. Spearing : Have not the Government shown a rather belated recognition of the important part that light rail has to play in places such as Croydon and London docklands? Is the Minister aware that, about two years ago, I approached his predecessor but two asking that the docklands light railway be extended to Barking and Thamesmead, and that I was turned down? Is it not stupid to build a six-lane highway across the River Thames, irrespective of the merits of doing so, and not extend at least one line of the docklands light railway across a new bridge to Thamesmead?
Mr. Portillo : The hon. Gentleman cannot sustain the accusation that we have been behind the game with light rail in London. After all, the docklands light railway was constructed when many Labour Members thought that docklands would enjoy no success and that the establishment of the docklands light railway was a waste of money. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Croydon. I am told that there is a plan to deposit a Bill in the House in November 1991. A proposal is being formed for an extension of the docklands light railway to Lewisham. We do not yet know how that will be financed. When we know that, we can consider whether to allow London Regional Transport to deposit a Bill next November.
Mr. Fry : Does my hon. Friend agree that at long last a number of encouraging schemes for light rail transit are coming forward? Following the question asked by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), is it not true that in the capital such schemes are not as well advanced as in other of our major cities? Would not the expedition of such schemes do something to allay increasing congestion on London's roads?
Mr. Portillo : May I welcome my hon. Friend back and say how pleased we are to see him here? The schemes are progressing apace in London and throughout the country. Many schemes are being talked about now, but not many of them have been brought to the point at which an application for Government grant has been made.
Column 13However, we expect to hear shortly from Avon and West Midlands, and there is a long list of other authorities which may or may not apply for grants in due course.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Kenneth Baker) : I shall visit the county palatinate on 1 and 23 February. On 1 February I shall be speaking at a dinner of the Manchester chamber of commerce and I am sure that there will be ample opportunity to discuss the enormous benefits accruing to businesses in the county palatinate from the uniform business rate.
Mr. Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the uniform business rate is the most effective instrument of regional policy since the war? Will he reiterate the Government's willingness to reconsider the transitional arrangements for small businesses?
Mr. Baker : On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, the answer is most certainly yes. There are substantial benefits to businesses in the north--in the whole of the north, not just the north-west--as a result of the uniform business rate. The yield of business rates in the north-west will fall by about £300 million over the coming years, with substantial reductions of about 44 per cent. for factories, 16.5 per cent. for shops and 35 per cent. for offices.
On the question of transitional relief, my hon. Friend knows that arrangements have been made so that no small business will face a rise of more than 15 per cent. in real terms each year as the new uniform business rate is phased in. In London, which is one of my hon. Friend's particular concerns, the limit of transitional relief for small businesses is extended to £15,000 new rateable value as opposed to £10,000 elsewhere in the country.
Dr. Cunningham : When the Chancellor visits the north-west, will he talk to Mr. Duffy at his grocer's shop in Adlington, which is in the constituency of Chorley, as the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) is telling him? Mr. Duffy faces almost a doubling of his local tax under the scheme, which is the right hon. Gentleman's own work. When Mr. Duffy's poll tax is added, he will face an increase in his local taxes in excess of 100 per cent. Even allowing for the transitional arrangements, he is likely to pay a minimum of 25 per cent. more, which will be about £500 per year extra. What will the Chancellor say to Mr. Duffy?
Mr. Baker : I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what I should say to Mr. Duffy ; that if we had kept the rating system, as a result of the overspending plans of Lancashire county council the rates this year would have risen by over one third, which would certainly be a great problem for Mr. Duffy, both as a small trader and an ordinary taxpayer. There is no doubt that this is a fairer and better system of local taxation for businesses and for ordinary community charge payers.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Does my right hon. Friend agree that in future businesses in Lancashire will be protected from the appalling weight of the burdens thrust on them every year since Lancashire county council fell under the control of Labour, which is probably why the Labour party did not do too well in the by-election in Blackpool on Thursday? As my right hon. Friend has observed, under the old system, the increase this year would have been very nearly one third.
Mr. Baker : I agree with my hon. Friend. The advantage of the uniform business rate to businesses not only in the north-west but across the country is that local variations, which are largely due to overspending by Labour local councils, will be a thing of the past. In the Labour- controlled local authority of Manchester, which is one of the jewels in the Labour party's local authority crown, the rate poundage has increased over 10 years by 240 per cent. compound which, after allowing for inflation, is 44 per cent. That is an enormous burden upon businesses in Manchester.
Mr. Banks : That does not seem to be a heavy workload. The right hon. Gentleman's job seems about as relevant as that of court correspondent for the Exchange and Mart . Is this not just a con--a way to get the British taxpayer to pay him a salary of £52,000 so that he can sit in the Cabinet as chairman of the Conservative party? Would it not be better, because of his role as the Josef Goebbels of the Conservative party, for Central Office, rather than the hard-pressed British taxpayer, to pay his salary?
Mr. Baker : I receive no ministerial salary. The hon. Gentleman should be the last person to attack me for having two jobs because he used to have two jobs. He was chairman of the Greater London council while representing Newham, North-West in the House. I deprived him of his first job in 1986 and I shall do all that I can to deprive him of his present job at the next general election.
Sir Peter Hordern (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission) : I met the Comptroller and Auditor General and the head of the National Audit Office and his deputy at the meeting of the Public Accounts Commission on 12 December 1989. In addition, I have regular informal contacts with the Comptroller and the Auditor General and his staff.
Column 15Mr. Skinner : When the hon. Gentleman next meets the officers, will he say to them that there is continuing disquiet about employers not handing over to the Exchequer national insurance contributions that are collected? According to one civil servant who has blown the whistle, an estimated £1 million a day that is collected from low-paid workers in this way is not handed over. Will he tell the officers that it is high time that they used their powers at the National Audit Office to investigate this serious complaint? If the Government can have officers running round all parts of the country investigating people who have received £30 from the Department of Social Security, they should be investigating this matter.
Sir Peter Hordern : That is an interesting question, but unfortunately it is not one for the Public Accounts Commission. It sounds to me like one for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, I shall write to the Comptroller and Auditor General to see that the hon. Gentleman gets a reply.
Sir Peter Hordern : The Commission last met on 12 December 1989 when, among other subjects we discussed the Estimates for 1990-91 of the National Audit Office and the Northern Ireland National Audit Office, and the corporate plan for the National Audit Office to 1994-95.
Mr. Allen : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, last week, statutory instruments relating to the Official Secrets Acts were before the House but were blocked. Hon. Members blocked them because of a condition relating to the National Audit Office, which is that those who work for the office could be described as Crown servants and could therefore fall under the ambit of the Official Secrets Acts. Will the hon. Gentleman reassure the House that National Audit Office staff will be free to continue their work on behalf of the Public Accounts Commission to examine all papers relevant to the pursuit of public money? Will he make those assurances publicly?
Sir Peter Hordern : I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the Comptroller and Auditor General and the National Audit Office will be able to pursue their duties, as they have always been able to, under the new legislation affecting the Official Secrets Acts.
Sir Peter Hordern : I am not sure that the Commission is any better than the Committee. The matter is more properly for the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee than for the Public Accounts Commission.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is unacceptable, on an issue where the Public Accounts Commission could make representations, that the Public Accounts Committee is unable to--
Mr. Campbell-Savours : I am referring specifically to the Commission's relationship to the Committee and the fact that it can make representations to the Committee. The PAC does not have access to information about state expenditure on the security services and GCHQ. That is shown as a single sum in the Vote and we are not allowed in any way to investigate the areas of expenditure covered by those headings. Members of Parliament may want more information, although not wishing to interfere in the operational work of that department.
Mr. Allen : The Lord President will be aware that Standing Order No. 10 which related to the possibility of adjourning the House and resuming on a morning sitting has been in disuse for nearly 20 years. It was introduced by one of his predecessors, Richard Crossman. After that 20-year gap, does he consider that it is time to look again at the relevance of a similar Standing Order, either by revamping or reinstituting Standing Order No. 10 or by some similar measure, so that hon. Members can proceed with business more rationally?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : It is unusual for the hon. Gentleman to express such enthusiasm for a matter on which there has already been an experiment which failed. Standing Order No. 10 was introduced in 1967
Sir Geoffrey Howe : So much the better for the hon. Gentleman. The Standing Order has not been used since 1969. It was found to be inconvenient, not just by Ministers but by hon. Members on both sides of the House to reassemble the House the following morning. It broke the continuity of the debate and did not work. I see no case for re-examining it.
Column 17of the pressure that that would place on Members who represent provincial constituencies a long way from London to base their families in London? That would break the link that many Members find important of living in the communities that they represent rather than in this all-too-dominating capital city?
Mr. Skinner : I hope that the Leader of the House will make a better fist of this than he did last week. When he introduces any alterations, will he bear in mind last week's unseemly behaviour when the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill received its Third Reading? During those proceedings there were never fewer than 50 hon. Members opposed to the Bill present in the House. Yet at 10 o'clock there was a sudden traffic jam outside when ministerial cars packed to the roof with Ministers came rolling in to secure the Aye vote. They argued that they were not on a three-line Whip, but they were led by the Prime Minister. Is it not a scandal that the Government promoters and, in this case, the South African authorities which wish to bring coal into Britain, are abusing so-called private Bills?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman is such a bad loser in that and many other matters. The Bill commanded substantial attention from both sides of the House for a long time. It is not surprising, therefore, that it received a substantial vote in its favour last week and was safely enacted by the House.
Mr. Barry Field : Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the simplest reform of the private Bill procedure advocated by the Procedure Committee which relates to the means of objection and which is supported by both sides of the House? The mumbling behind hands and behind Order Papers in order to object to a Bill is unseemly and does the House no good.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I shall certainly take account of that point among the many recommendations of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure. It is clear that the House wants the private Bill procedure to remain an effective force, but it is equally clear that significant changes must be made to it. I shall consider them all.
Column 18giving careful consideration to the Procedure Committee's important discussion in its recent report of the other possible aspects of this matter.
Mr. Rooker : Does the Leader of the House agree that Members of the European Parliament are not elected to be a mouthpiece either for this House or for the British Government? Nevertheless, because of the nature of the subjects and the interchange of legislation between the European Parliament and this House, some type of institutional connection would be valuable to all concerned, whether they be elected for the governing party or the opposition parties. At least that would save the time of the chairman of the Tory party, who last week called in dissident Tory Members of the European Parliament and threatened them with expulsion from the Tory party because they were not toeing the line in Europe. We do not want that type of confusion ; people should be allowed to speak freely. We in this House should have the means of input with Members of the European Parliament when they get to grips with that end of the legislative operation.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman's case does not need to be supported by unjust accusations against my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Procedure Committee has made recommendations for developments in this area. In recent years there has been a steady series of changes, informal and formal, so that Members of the European Parliament increasingly attend Back-Bench meetings of both major parliamentary parties. Certainly the European Democratic Group meets regularly in the Palace of Westminster. There are a number of initiatives, including that taken by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to inrease such informal contacts and there will be others. They all deserve to be considered sympathetically.
Mr. Stanbrook : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the cause of many of the difficulties that we have had in recent years with the European Parliament is that Members of that Parliament are in a political vacuum? That arose largely because the House agreed to the direct election of Members to the European Parliament. Would it not have been better to have had indirect elections of Members of this House who could have served in Europe by rota? All of us would have had the experience of exercising responsibility towards the European Community.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is entitled to advocate such an approach, but it is not required by or compatible with the arrangements made with the EC. Most people believe that it is difficult to combine both jobs, and one consequence of trying to maintain the dual mandate was that we moved to direct elections.
Mr. Benn : Is the Leader of the House aware that the problem derives from the fact that, under the treaty of Rome, Members of the European Parliament have no control over the legislation and, under the prerogative, the House of Commons has no control over the Ministers who go? Therefore, both the European Parliament and the House of Commons are impotent observers of decisions taken in secret by the Council of Ministers on the instructions or the advice of the Commission, which is elected by nobody but appointed by Governments.
Column 19Sir Geoffrey Howe : That is a very compact oversimplification of the position. As a result of the Single European Act among other things, Members of the European Parliament have a significant role in legislative matters coming before the European Parliament. As a result of hon. Members' continued consideration of the
recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee and others, hon. Members also have a significant influence on the position adopted by Ministers in the Council of Ministers.
Mr. Dykes : The Lord President rightly says that there are growing party and personal links, but is not part of the equation missing if we do not have the institutional links suggested by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker)? We need the formal linkage of membership to, for example, a Select Committee for the Members of the European Parliament, and MEPs should have facilities such as telexes, a fax room and telephones as are provided in other national Parliaments.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot comment in detail on the Select Committee's recommendations on this. However, my hon. Friend will remember that the report recently submitted by the Select Committee concluded that there were no strong arguments for recommending formal links such as he suggests. There is certainly a case for looking at the improvement of physical communications by post as well as telecommunications.
Mr. Banks : I thank the Leader of the House for that information. Will he convey the thanks of the House to the staff who work in the kiosk for the enormous work that they do before Christmas? Would it not be appropriate for them to receive a hefty bonus for that work? It seems from the figures that the path to reselection is paved with Victorian House of Commons mints and tins of humbugs and fudge. Would it not be appropriate to relocate the kiosk to Westminster Hall, where members of the general public could get to it and purchase some of the excellent commodities on sale? That would also improve the profitability of the House.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : There is certainly a case for examining the possibility of extending this facility, but such matters must always be considered in the light of the limited accommodation available in the Palace of Westminster. I hope that, as the hon. Gentleman seeks reselection, he will find it convenient to make use of House of Commons fudge in large quantities.
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