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Business of the House

3.30 pm

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South) : Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : The business for next week will be as follows :

Monday 2 November----Second Reading of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill.

Tuesday 3 November----Second Reading of the Housing and Urban Development Bill.

Wednesday 4 November----Motion relating to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Thursday 5 November----Second Reading of the Civil Service (Management Functions) Bill [Lords].

Friday 6 November----Debate on the Bingham report on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Monday 9 November----Second Reading of the Education Bill. The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet on Wednesday 4 November at 10.30 am further to consider European Community Document No. 4327/92 relating to cultural goods.

Mrs. Beckett : I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. As the Prime Minister claims that the Maastricht treaty is the cornerstone of his foreign policy, is it not a further indication of the Government's lack of direction that they are still dithering about the wording of the motion which they propose to put before the House next Wednesday? Can the Leader of the House explain why, after an extended Cabinet meeting, they still do not know the proposition that they will put before us? Can he tell us anything further about when we shall know the wording of the motion?

May I also press the Government for an early debate on the future of the Rosyth naval dockyard in the light of the widespread publicity in Scotland today about its rumoured closure, with the loss of some 15,000 jobs-- directly or indirectly--at stake?

Finally, will the Leader of the House arrange for the earliest possible publication of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council report on emphysema and bronchitis, particularly among coal miners? We are told that the report has been available since the end of August. Is he aware that the entire House will be outraged at the revelation that publication of that document has been deliberately held up so that the cost to public funds can be reduced as those who might benefit from its recommendations die off one by one?

Mr. Newton : On the motion, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made the position clear in his answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). I have nothing to add to that. On Rosyth, I am not in a position to comment on speculative reports. However, I can repeat the assurance given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement that no decisions have yet been made concerning the future arrangements for dockyard management. All relevent considerations will be taken into

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account and all interested parties consulted when making such a decision. The Government hope to be in a position to make an announcement by the end of the year.

On the industrial injuries matter, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security will make an announcement about publication shortly. I know well from experience that the report's recommendations will be considered with the appropriate care.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : On Wednesday's debate, will my right hon. Friend make sure that the motion draws attention to the virtually unanimous findings of the CBI that the job losses consequent on our not ratifying the Maastricht treaty depend not only on the fact that foreign investment would be reluctant to come here but that large numbers of British multinational companies would move their manufacturing abroad, with the resulting loss of thousands of jobs, not least in my constituency?

Mr. Newton : I note my hon. Friend's request to include a certain point in the motion. That point is very much in the Government's mind when they consider their approach to these matters.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : Will the Leader of the House accept that the announcement by his right hon. Friend that next Wednesday's motion will be a substantive, not a procedural, one will be welcomed by all in this House who are seriously interested in the issue of our future in Europe and by those in the country who want to know whether we are giving Europe the green light or the red light? Many of us, like the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), believe that it should be the green light.

When will we have an opportunity to debate overseas aid? The right hon. Gentleman said last week that he would think about it. Will we have a debate before the autumn statement?

Several Hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. I have been rather more tolerant than usual. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) asked two questions and the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) asked quite a few. In future hon. Members must ask only one question, and then we will all get through as many as possible.

Mr. Newton : I note with appropriate gratitude the first part of the hon. Gentleman's comments and those of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) on other occasions.

As for overseas aid, I cannot add to what I said on this point on a number of occasions last week ; nor can I predict the outcome of the current public expenditure discussions. I apologise, Madam Speaker, for giving a rather long answer, but I have made it clear that, unusually, the autumn statement will be debated shortly after it is made.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : Referring to next Wednesday's debate, which many of us are happy to refer to, will my right hon. Friend confirm one point? Am I not right in thinking that the reason we are having it has nothing to do with the bravado of the Prime Minister but is a response to the request of the then Leader of the Opposition before the House rose for the summer recess? Is it not therefore a bit rich for the hon. Member for

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Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) to start complaining about the terms of the motion when she and her colleagues have decided not to support it before they have even seen it?

Mr. Newton : The only possible answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Bearing in mind that in the north of England we have the brick industry, the glass industry, the steel industry and goodness knows what else, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the time has come to hold a debate on the construction industry so that we can begin to put the country back to work instead of wasting so much and so many talents?

Mr. Newton : I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request, but I refer him to what my right hon. Friend said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) in respect of the autumn statement. The debate on that is likely to provide an opportunity relevant to the hon. Gentleman's request.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : Will there be a statement on the progress of the vital GATT negotiations? Does not their importance emphasise the need for involvement in the European Community and how vital it is that Britain be at the heart of it, not standing idly on the side?

Mr. Newton : The answer to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question is yes, but I cannot promise a statement at a particular time. My hon. Friend well knows the efforts of the Prime Minister to get further talks under way.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley) : Will the Leader of the House consider next week or at the very least the week after that a debate in Government time on the shambles that is the disability living allowance? I understand that in Blackpool there are 30,000 unopened letters, and that, even when they are opened, there are no staff to process the claims of these most deserving of our citizens. It is scandalous that that has not been dealt with by the Government so far, and time should be allowed for a full debate in the House on this scandal.

Mr. Newton : I would not wish to be taken as endorsing the terms in which the hon. Gentleman phrased his question, but I can fairly make the point that the Department of Social Security will be answering oral questions on Monday.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : My right hon. Friend will remember that he and I heard references by the Prime Minister during the Conservative party conference to considerable help for small businesses through red tape being stripped away. We also heard some colourful metaphors by our right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. Would it be possible for my right hon. Friend very soon to bring the President of the Board of Trade to the Dispatch Box to make some announcements for which many small businesses are waiting?

Mr. Newton : As it happens, I do not need to bring my right hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box in the way that has been suggested, because he is due to be here on Wednesday for questions.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the concern of my

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right hon. and hon. Friends about the limited amount of Northern Ireland legislation in the pipeline? We have been waiting for two or three years for equivalents to Acts. In the light of that, will he look again at the current legislation and apply it immediately to Northern Ireland, rather than have us hanging around waiting for years for equivalent legislation?

Mr. Newton : I was unable to be here earlier for Northern Ireland questions and am not sure whether that matter arose then. Perhaps I could treat this as an extension of Northern Ireland questions and promise to draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Will my right hon. Friend provide an early opportunity to debate early-day motion 668? [That this House notes with concern reports that the Government is considering closing one of the two remaining naval dockyards at Rosyth and Devonport ; notes that the closure of either dockyard would mean the loss of several thousand jobs in the defence industry and supporting businesses ; notes that both dockyards have been successful in diversifying into other commercial activities whilst improving efficiency in their core defence business ; and therefore calls on the Government to consider all possible means, including, if necessary, a single combined management, by which a way can be found to keep both dockyards open and preserve at least some of the jobs dependent on them.]

A debate would give an opportunity to discuss the economic significance to Scotland of Rosyth and the political difficulties that would be faced if we were to maintain the Trident force in the Clyde but removed the jobs at Rosyth for the maintenance of those submarines.

Mr. Newton : I genuinely note what my hon. Friend says, but he will recall that the point arose at the start of business questions. I am not able to add to what I said then.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : Could the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the condition of the fabric of the pits that are marked for closure and are subject to care and maintenance? A debate would allow the House to test the worth and value of the Prime Minister's reassurance that all pits would remain viable for work. It would also allow hon. Members to tell the Prime Minister and the Government that face convergence in many of those pits is fast making the faces unworkable and unviable. If the Prime Minister's reassurances have any validity, coaling must start again at Trentham colliery in Stoke-on-Trent, and in the pits in the constituencies of many of my hon. Friends which are suffering severely.

Mr. Newton : I understand that British Coal will maintain the fabric of the 10 collieries during the consultation period precisely so that coaling can be restarted if closure does not finally take place.

Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) : Will my right hon. Friend consider making time for a debate next week on the conduct of banks, especially the Royal Bank of Scotland? That issue is of considerable importance to a small business in my constituency employing six people who received a letter on 14 October stating :

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"we find that all of our major competitors have been sharply increasing their"--

Madam Speaker : Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will quickly rethink his question. Questions must relate to next week's business and the hon. Gentleman cannot pursue his present line of questioning.

Mr. Bates : May we have a debate next week on the subject and conduct of banks, including the Royal Bank of Scotland? Reducing interest rates is the progressive and courageous policy of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Interest rates are coming down but that bank decided to use this opportunity to increase its profits. Before replying to such a debate, the Chancellor should call in the banks and make it impeccably clear to them that the purpose of reducing interest rates is to protect small businesses and jobs and not to line the pockets of the banks.

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend's question demonstrates how lucky the electors of Langbaurgh are to have him here to defend their interests. My safe course is to say that I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. With a bit of ingenuity, my hon. Friend might be able to put that question to the President of the Board of Trade on Wednesday.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : When can we have a debate on the report by the Select Committee on Members' Interests about declaration and registration?

Mr. Newton : I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a definite date now, but I have every incentive to try to find one, as he will obviously ask me the same question every week until I do.

Mr. John Ward (Poole) : Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate enabling us to compare this country's record with those of our European partners in carrying out EC regulations to which we have signed up?

Mr. Newton : I have little doubt that that point will be adverted to in the course of debate next week.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made about the current discussions on the review of the common fisheries policy? The northern fisheries have been closed, and 25 per cent. of my constituents who are totally dependent on the fishing industry for their livelihood have no prospect of employment for the rest of the year.

This is a matter of serious importance to us. The implications are on the same level as the implications of pit closures for the hon. Members who have spoken so effectively on behalf of the mining communities that they represent. May we be given the same consideration?

Mr. Newton : I recognise that the matter is of considerable importance to the hon. Lady's constituents. I shall of course draw her remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) : I am rather buoyed up by what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said today about capital investments. Will there be time next week for an early announcement about the Jubilee line

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extension? Many of my constituents would benefit greatly from an early and positive announcement of what is to happen.

Mr. Newton : I cannot promise a statement about that next week, but I note what my hon. Friend has said.

Ms. Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West) : May I join my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) and the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) in urging the Leader of the House to arrange a debate next week on early-day motion 668? Such a debate is surely vital, given the report in today's Scottish Daily Record, which implies that Scottish Conservatives have been told that Rosyth dockyard will close. It is vital that the Secretary of State for Defence be called to the Dispatch Box to make a clear statement to all of us.

Mr. Newton : I am aware of the importance that the hon. Lady--like my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr.

Walker)--understandably attaches to the matter ; but it was raised by her hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), very reasonably, and I cannot add to the answer that I gave then.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South) : When my right hon. Friend frames Wednesday's motion, will he include a reference to the Opposition's startling U-turn so that the British people can clearly see that all that Labour said at the time of the election was a total sham? Labour is completely without principle, and its commitment to Europe is completely hollow.

Mr. Newton : I do not want to find myself drafting the detail of the motion on the Floor of the House in answer to a business question, but I nevertheless feel that my hon. Friend has made an important point.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : In addition to a debate about the various reports produced by the Select Committee on Members' Interests-- including that concerning the tightening of the registration of commercial lobbying interests--are we to have a Select Committee on Members' Interests, or have the Government abandoned the idea?

As the Leader of the House know, there is a Standing Order about the Select Committee in relation to our debates and the declaration of interests. Is not the right hon. Gentleman concerned about the fact that many Tory Back Benchers are lining themselves up according to the "Members of Parliament for hire" syndrome, and lining their pockets with the fruits of outside business interests while we and the public have no idea what is going on?

Mr. Newton : I might find it possible to give the hon. Gentleman a more sympathetic response if he did not use business questions to make that point in the way he did.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark) : Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to a letter sent recently by the secretary of British Coal to various people on a list instructing them that "there must be no contact with Members of Parliament other than through your Group Director or Managing Director."?

Apart from the question of the constitutional propriety of such a request, will my right hon. Friend consider the implications for the independence of some of the advice that the review must be given if those most closely involved

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cannot raise the matter through their Members of Parliament? Will he arrange a debate on the subject, or else urge British Coal to withdraw that instruction?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot promise a debate on the matter. However, I can certainly promise to reflect on what he has said and on the request that he has made and to make sure that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade does so also.

Mr. Jimmy Boyce (Rotherham) : I have pressing business affecting my constituents that needs to be referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration Select Committee. Will the Leader of the House be in a position to tell us next week when that Committee is to be set up?

Mr. Newton : I shall do my best to put myself in a position to give the hon. Gentleman an answer, but I cannot do so at this moment.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : Will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on our continued policy of nuclear deterrence, the future of which is so important to the future of Rosyth dockyard?

Mr. Newton : I cannot promise quite the debate for which my hon. Friend asked me--nor, to my regret in some ways, can I add to what I have already said to three or four hon. Members. However, I well understand why my hon. Friend raised the point.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : May we have a debate about Companies house? We could then examine why the President of the Board of Trade has an entry in the Companies house register regarding the Haymarket publishing companies and trusts. That entry does not feature in the old Register of Members' Interests. I do not know about the new one--when we get it. Is it not important that the President of the Board of Trade, who is conducting reviews of other industries, should sort out his own financial affairs before he starts to review what he should do about pit closures? It is about time that this Maxwell-type cobweb of financial trusts-- [Interruption.] --was sorted out before the President of the Board of Trade sorts out the livelihood of 31,000 miners.

Mr. Newton : In the interests of keeping the temperature down, Madam Speaker, in which I am sure both you and I have an interest, I shall merely refer once again to the fact that the President of the Board of Trade will be at the Dispatch Box next week.

Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian) : Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate or for a Government statement on the

responsibilities of Ministers? An unprecedented situation has arisen under which a civil servant has been blamed for the pit closures. Ministers were previously guided by a code of conduct in these matters. What has happened reflects poorly upon us and everyone else. The respect of the public for us is the lowest it has ever been. Has there been a change? Ministers used to resign if they made mistakes. Now they do not do so ; they sack their staff.

Mr. Newton : If I understand aright what the hon. Gentleman refers to, the position is that new appointments

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have been made that are intended to give effect to the Government's commitment to examine afresh the future of the coal industry and related matters.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : Next Wednesday, at the start of business, we shall, as on every day, pray that this country be godly and quietly governed. In the light of that, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the question of the motion to be put on the debate later in the day and have it, on the Adjournment of the House, on the subject of the situation in the European Communities? Otherwise, I fear that there will be an unholy and wholly unnecessary row?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend, whose views I recognise, will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about that matter. I am obviously not in a position to add anything further.

Ms. Ann Coffey (Stockport) : Will the Leader of the House make time available next week for a debate on the British aerospace industry? As he will be aware, a large number of people from all parts of the country have joined a lobby today because they are desperately worried about the future of their industry. They wish positive action to be taken to ensure that British Aerospace has a prosperous future and that manufacturing industry as a whole has a prosperous future. Such a debate would, I suggest, give the Government an opportunity to tell us about their manufacturing and economic strategy.

Mr. Newton : The Government's policies, including the recent further cuts in interest rates, are aimed at helping the whole of British industry, manufacturing and otherwise, including aerospace. We shall continue with policies to achieve that, but I cannot promise a debate next week in the terms that the hon. Lady seeks.

Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough) : May we have a debate on why Members of Parliament who work at 7 Old Palace Yard were not consulted about the proposed move, at an estimated cost of £3 million?

Mr. Newton : I cannot promise a debate, but no doubt my hon. Friend will have drawn his views to the attention of the Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Select Committee.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) : Does the Leader of the House plan to table changes to local authority superannuation regulations ? Under those changes, if a local authority service were privatised, its workers would not be able to keep their local authority pension. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman recognises that the matter is of much concern to thousands of local authority workers, especially the hundreds of workers in South Yorkshire Transport. Does he plan to table the regulations next week ?

Mr. Newton : I will bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks, and his implicit criticism of any such thought, to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge) : May I urge my right hon. Friend to arrange an early debate on the crisis in the tourism industry in the west country in general and in Teignbridge in particular ? Is he aware that hotels and guest houses are particularly hard pressed ? Does he agree

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that a debate would enable us to discuss measures that might be included in the Budget to help that hard-pressed sector ?

Mr. Newton : I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate, but I advert to remarks that I made in response to earlier questions about economic policy in general. The debate following the autumn statement might provide an opportunity for him to speak.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : May we have a statement next week on the situation in Bosnia, which would allow the Government to tell us what they and the United Nations will do to airlift food supplies to the thousands upon thousands of Bosnians who are facing an extremely harsh winter on the mountains ? It would further allow us to persuade Ministers that the only way to stop the partition of Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia is military intervention.

Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers have commented extensively on this in various ways in the past few weeks, and I cannot promise a statement next week.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : Will my right hon. Friend give the House a commitment that, following the Department of Trade and Industry's announcement on the areas that will achieve assisted area status, hon. Members will have an opportunity to debate the issue in the House? He will know that many applications have been made, including by my own constituency, and that the future of many jobs depends on those applications. It would be helpful if he would give that undertaking.

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend will be aware that we are a little way short of concluding that review. Some advance signs have been given about the possibility of difficulties in some of the mining areas. It is a little premature to consider my hon. Friend's specific request, but I shall ensure that it is borne in mind.

Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : Does not the Leader of the House understand that, however many assurances the Prime Minister and the President of the Board of Trade have given that the 31 pits will be reprieved, as was referred to at Question Time, the reality is that, if coal production ceases at Trentham, the pit is liable to close? Why will not he arrange a full debate next week to enable hon. Members to air their concerns about all 31 pits before it is too late and before the men have been bribed with redundancy payments?

Mr. Newton : Again, I understand why the hon. Lady has raised that subject, but I cannot add to what I said on a related matter a few questions ago.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a review and an urgent statement from the President of the Board of Trade on what is happening at Coventry pit, which British Coal has said will be capped in the next few days? Capping will endanger the livelihoods of all the men who work at Daw Mill, who depend on having access to the south Warwickshire coalfield through the air shaft of Coventry pit. Does not that decision by British Coal cast into a rather odd light the commitment by the President of the

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Board of Trade to review overall energy policy, and not to take any action that could prejudice the future of the coal industry?

Mr. Newton : As with previous comments that have been made, I shall bring those remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention. I am sure that he would take appropriate action if he felt that there were a conflict such as that suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

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