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Business of the House

3.30 pm

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South) : Will the Leader of the House state the business for the forthcoming 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 7 February----Until about Seven o'clock, Private Members' Motions.

There will be a debate entitled "Taking Rio Forward" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Tuesday 8 February----Second Reading of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill.

Wednesday 9 February----Consideration in Committee of the Sunday Trading Bill (Second Day).

Supplemental timetable on and consideration of Lords Amendments which may be received to the Statutory Sick Pay Bill.

Motion on Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act. Thursday 10 February----Opposition Day (Third Allotted Day). There will be a debate on the Child Support Agency on an Opposition Motion.

Friday 11 February----Private Members' Bills.

Monday 14 February----Motion on the European Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales) Order.

Motion on the European Parliamentary Constituencies (England) Order.

Motion on the European Parliamentary Elections (Changes to the Franchise and Qualifications of Representatives) regulations. Motion on the Airports (Northern Ireland) Order.

Motion on the Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order.

Mrs. Beckett : May I tell the Lord President that we appreciate the opportunity to use Opposition time for a full debate on the future of the Child Support Act? The Government shirked that this week, although we regret that it has been left to the Opposition to do what we think should be the Government's job.

Will the Lord President not shirk the pressing need for a debate in Government time on the devastating report published by the Public Accounts Committee on today's unprecedented waste, mismanagement and fraud? That is especially important as the huge tax hikes, on which debate was guillotined this week, are a direct result of the Government's failure and incompetence in that respect.

Will he ensure that the Home Secretary makes a statement to the House about any change in policy--a welcome, even if insufficient change--on plans to take political control of the police and the courts? The Home Secretary's predesessor did so when the policy was changed during proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bill 1992. Finally, has the Lord President seen the report in The Sun in which the Home Secretary's predecessor--the present Chancellor of the Exchequer--claims that he is the Government's fireman, and that he is always being brought in to clear up the mess which has been left by others? Will the Lord President give those "others" the right of reply?

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Will he extend that particularly to those, such as the present Home Secretary, who are having to follow the present Chancellor?

Mr. Newton : First, I ought to apologise to the House, because I failed to turn over the page and announce the European Standing Committees for next week. I will rectify that omission.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee "A" will meet on Wednesday 9 February at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents Nos. 8757/93 and 10761/93 relating to bovine somatotrophin.

[Wednesday 9 February :

European Standing Committee A--Relevant European Community documents : 8757/93 and 10761/93, bovine somatotrophin (BST) ; relevant European Legislation Committee reports : HC 48-ii (1993-94) and HC 48-vi (1993-94.]

The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) asked several questions. First, I see no question of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary seeking at any stage to take political control of the police. Yesterday, he announced some changes in the proposals previously made. Those changes responded to representations made in another place and elsewhere. That is entirely sensible, responsible and right.

As for the right hon. Lady's comments on the Public Accounts Committee, it should be made clear once again, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has several times made it clear, that the report did not suggest that there had been any decline in standards. It rightly criticised breaches, and the Government have made it clear that, in respect of any such breach, they will be determined to see that the proper action is taken.

Lastly, as it happens, I have not seen the story in The Sun to which the right hon. Lady referred, but I shall make sure that I look at it, and I shall read it with care and interest.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : Would it be possible some time next week, or soon after, for us as gentlemen to consider the problem of lady Members of Parliament, and in particular the difficulties of attracting ladies to take part in our proceedings? One of the inhibiting factors is the lunatic way in which we conduct our affairs, which is a subject of contempt in the country outside, irritation to ladies and derision in other countries? Will my right hon. Friend tell us what is happening and who is responsible for blocking the all-party Jopling report?

Mr. Newton : As I understand it, many Opposition Members, both ladies and gentlemen, strongly support the proposals in the Jopling report. As for who is blocking the prospect of progress on the proposals, there was a perceptive article in today's The Times by Peter Riddell, which I commend to the attention of both my hon. Friend and others in the House. Beyond that, I do not wish to speculate.

To what extent we always gain from the attendance of lady Members in the House was called into question during the guillotine proceedings earlier this week, in which both a right hon. lady and an hon. Lady--the right hon. Member for Derby, South and the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman)--who spoke from the Opposition Front

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Bench ended up denouncing the Government at one and the same time for providing too much time and too little time for discussion of the Finance Bill.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury) : Following the embarrassing decision in the High Court last Friday that the guidelines given by the Secretary of State to the local government review were illegal, can we have a statement from the Secretary of State on the future of the local government review, in particular in relation to the timetable, which must surely be put back, given that much of the work that has been carried out up to now has proved wasted and illegal?

Mr. Newton : As will soon become clear to the hon. Gentleman, he is rather overstating the effects of the decision. The effect of the judgment is to delete a single sentence from the guidance to the Local Government Commission. The rest of it still stands, and the reviews that are under way continue. The Government are not appealing against the court ruling.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : My right hon. Friend has probably read recently about the imperfections of car boot sales. The Customs and Excise men go there and recover a tremendous amount of smuggled wines and beers. Petty criminals use the sales to get rid of their stocks. At the same time, there is a health and safety factor, with electrical equipment in particular. Is it not time that someone should be the licensee of sites, and that supervision should be more profound?

Mr. Newton : I am certainly well aware of concerns expressed in many places similar to those which my hon. Friend has expressed. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and others are aware of those concerns. I shall bring my hon. Friend's remarks to their attention.

Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley) : Will the Leader of the House join me and others in condemning the high price of children's footwear? If so, will he make parliamentary time available to debate the issue?

Mr. Newton : I certainly cannot undertake to provide parliamentary time specifically to debate that issue. The appropriate course is to rely on consumer pressure, of which no doubt the hon. Gentleman is part, to exert appropriate influence on those selling children's shoes.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton) : Has the Leader of the House noticed early-day motion 320 in my name, which has been supported by more than 200 hon. Members on both sides of the House?

[That this House expresses its deep concern at continuing reports that citizens of developed nations travelling abroad may be encouraging the use of children in prostitution and pornography ; reaffirms its commitment to the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which seeks to protect children from sexual exploitation ; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to seek to play an active role in bringing about concerted international action to tackle this problem and in particular to examine ways of ensuring that individuals involved in such exploitation are brought to justice within the United Kingdom.]

It deals with the exploitation of children, through pornography and prostitution, by tourists from developed nations visiting, predominantly, third-world countries.

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Could time be made available to discuss that important matter and its implications? We hope that the Government could lead other member states in the EC to negotiate with the Governments of, for example, the Philippines, Thailand and, in particular, Sri Lanka, which is a member of the Commonwealth and with which we have a close relationship?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will answer questions next Thursday, and she may wish to draw the matter to his attention. All hon. Members share concern about such matters and my right hon. Friends will be anxious to find appropriate ways to tackle those concerns as and when they can.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside) : Will the Leader of the House consider providing time for a debate on mad cow disease and whether it may enter the human food chain? Will he persuade Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box and to tell the House what research they have commissioned and what the latest advice they have received on whether mad cow disease could enter the human food chain? May I tell him about a distressing case in my constituency--

Madam Speaker : Order. I am afraid that I must intervene. We are not here to hear about cases or evidence, but simply to ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the subject.

Mr. Newton : I cannot promise time for a debate on the Floor of the House, but of course I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Such matters may be relevant to the debate in Standing Committee A about bovine somatotrophin to which I adverted earlier.

Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash) : Will my right hon. Friend consider an early debate on the provisions of the Local Government Act 1972 on councillor convictions and disqualification from office? Is he aware that the Derbyshire county councillor who was recently gaoled for fiddling his expenses retained his committee chairmanship while in gaol and until he lost his appeal this week? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that councillor should pay back that money, and that gaol on the rates must be stopped?

Mr. Newton : It is an astonishing story, and I am sure that those concerned locally will wish to draw it to the attention of the district auditor.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : Since the Leader of the House has shown his attachment to the importance of the Jopling report, which perhaps applies only to hon. Members living in Greater London and has little significance to those of us who represent far-flung places, will he address the issue of "taking stock", which was defined by both the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Scotland in the wake of the general election?

Given that the official Opposition have now comfortably voted with the Government to appoint Conservative Members from English constituencies to serve on a Committee that deals specifically with Scottish legislation, does he not feel that now is an appropriate time to debate the issue of "taking stock", which seems to be on the back burner?

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Mr. Newton : This is the United Kingdom Parliament, and it is appropriate that it should operate as such. On the hon. Lady's last point, we are genuinely anxious to make progress, but I am afraid it is another of those issues on which progress is not as fast as we would like, because of the absence of the usual channels.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) : Will my right hon. Friend consider whether we could debate the events surrounding the investigations into Westminster council? I am particularly concerned about a recent newspaper report which alleged that the investigations were tough, but most were conducted without those under investigation being told that they had rights to solicitors? By invoking the criminal sanction--which has been broken by almost every member of the press, and I gather many of the public --many of those who wished to clear their names were unable to do so.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has been a great travesty of justice because of the failure to allow individuals to clear their names so that they now stand guilty before they have had the opportunity to clear their names?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend probably understands that I would not wish to comment on his suggestions off the cuff. We are concerned--as everyone will be--to ensure that serious allegations are properly investigated. I am equally confident that those people who undertake such investigations will want to ensure that they are conducted in a proper manner, and will examine my hon. Friend's remarks.

Several hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker : May I remind hon. Members that this question time relates to next week's business and is not an open question time to the Leader of the House? Hon. Members should be asking him to change the business next week so that they can discuss other matters. This question time is not just a free-for-all.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : Does the Leader of the House recall that I have mentioned several times the serious situation facing the engineering steel industry in the Wentworth and Rotherham constituencies? Does he accept that such a debate is especially important now that the Government have decided to withdraw the iron and steel industries redundancy payments scheme for steel workers? Can we have a debate about that, if we cannot have one about the survival of the industry itself?

Mr. Newton : I well appreciate the hon. Gentleman's very appropriate constituency interest in those matters, but I cannot undertake to provide time for a debate.

Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor) : Will my right hon. Friend make time for an early debate on management of the South Wales police authority? He may be aware that there is widespread concern in south Wales over suggestions that 40 police stations may be closed. Many officers in the force, who are being approached with a view to repaying overtime, are concerned to make the contrast with my constituency, where the Dyfed-Powys police have recorded the lowest crime rate and the highest clear-up rate, and recorded a 13 per cent. fall in crime. Perhaps that contrast needs to be made in this Chamber.

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Mr. Newton : One of my hon. Friends has just whispered to me that it must be the influence that my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) has on his constituency. In business terms, it seems possible that my hon. Friend might be able to advert to those matters when we discuss the Welsh local government finance orders.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : Will the Leader of the House make time on Monday for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement on the Swan report on the conditions in which seriously ill women are being kept in at Ashworth special hospital on Merseyside? That report follows the public inquiry undertaken by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC into the conditions at that hospital and the scandalous behaviour of staff employed there.

The chair of the special hospital has refused right hon. and hon. Members access to details of that report. As a result we cannot represent our constituents [ Hon. Members :-- "Question."] Will the Secretary of State make a full statement in the House on Monday about the contents of the Swan report?

Mr. Newton : I was not aware of the serious matters that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I will make quite sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is made aware of them.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that an early statement or debate on the progress of the Banham commission would enable the Liberal Democrat party to make clear its preference for the bureaucratic nightmare of regional government? it would also enable the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) to make clear what he has hitherto only whispered--that he supports the break-up of Somerset into three, a proposal opposed by the majority of people in Somerset, by numbers of Liberal Democrat councillors at county, district, town and parish levels, and by myself and three Conservative parliamentary colleagues who represent the county?

Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friend will find that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be making those matters clear shortly and that they will be very much along the lines of what I said in response to an earlier questioner. I must express some doubt as to whether any such statement will draw clarity on this matter, or on any other, from the leader of the Liberal Democrat party.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Could we have a debate next week on the right to buy, especially in light of the concerns being expressed in Rutland and Melton by council tenants, who want to know whether under British law it is now possible for companies--or whatever--to buy council houses as intermediaries at a £50,000 discount? They want to know, so can we have a debate on those matters next week?

Mr. Newton : I will simply say that, in my judgment, the hon. Gentleman is doing himself no good by this campaign.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : Bearing in mind the five implied spending commitments that the Labour party has made this week alone, including one this afternoon by the leader of the Labour party, will my right hon. Friend ensure next week and every week that we have a statement from

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the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the effects of those spending commitments on the taxation of everyone in the country?

Mr. Newton : What a very good idea.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : May we have a debate next week on London, please, and in particular on the state of London's roads? I do not know whether the Leader of the House has a chance to understand the chaos on London's streets when he is driving around in his ministerial limo being pampered by minions, but hardly a street in London is not being dug up at the moment. The Rotherhithe tunnel and the Albert bridge is closed ; it is chaos out there. We need a debate to pin the blame on those responsible. If the Minister for Transport in London spent a little more time in this House rather than other people's houses, we could ask him some questions. Mr. Newton rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. Before the Leader of the House responds, may I say that long questions prevent other hon. Members from asking questions. I am watching the clock, and I am always anxious to call all hon. Members, but if the questions are too long, I shall not be able to do so.

Mr. Newton : I might respond rather more sympathetically were I not conscious that the next public spending demand from the Opposition may well be more expenditure on the maintenance and improvement of roads.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time has come for a debate next week to consider early-day motions 341, 459 and 467, which have support from hon. Members on both sides of the House, and about which requests have been made for a number of weeks.

[That this House calls upon the Right honourable Member for Yeovil to disassociate himself from the description by Tom Dommett, a Liberal Democrat County Councillor, of his constituents in Somerset, as Yids, Nig- nogs, Ities and Pakis no better than New Age scum and vermin' ; believes that the use of such grossly offensive language about people of other nationalities and races is wholly unacceptable in public life ; notes that this is yet the latest example of blatant racism within the Liberal Democrat Party ; and calls upon the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, the Right honourable Member for Yeovil, to expel Councillor Dommett from the party forthwith.]

Will that not give us the opportunity to discover why the Liberal Democrat party can lecture us in a high moral tone and then use racist literature? Would it not also give us an opportunity to have a look at its latest handbook--

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must come to the point. I am always anxious to call as many Members as possible. This is an important time for Back Benchers, but if hon. Members abuse it, I shall have to curtail it.

Mr. Nicholls : --which would denigrate people for having regional accents?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend was in danger of putting some strain on my support system by linking quite so many widely spaced early-day motions, but I understand that they all refer to the leader of the Liberal Democrat party,

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to whom I have already made some reference. All the persistent and understandable efforts from my hon. Friends to extract things from the leader of the Liberal party appear to be meeting little success, but we shall continue trying together.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley) : Can we have a debate next week on the millennium fund? It seems that every day projects are claiming that they have already keyed into the millennium fund, when the committee has not yet been appointed. It may well be that the Prime Minister himself gives tips and winks to certain projects.

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on that matter only a few moments ago, and I certainly do not intend to add to it.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : Now that there seems to be increased interest on all sides of the House in local government corruption, will my right hon. Friend organise a debate on that topic, and invite comment and condemnation of nepotism and corruption on Labour- controlled Monklands council from the local Labour Member of Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition, who has been strangely silent on the matter?

Mr. Newton : As it happens, I can claim that we are providing some fairly substantial opportunities. There is, of course, a local government debate to follow business questions this afternoon, and helpfully, the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) has "the future of Scotland's democracy" as the private Member's motion on Monday. I have not been informed whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition intends to speak about Monklands, but that possibility should be considered.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : When are the Government likely to make a statement about the apology that they should be extending to the Council of Europe, the Western European Union, NATO, foreign visits by CPA and IPU delegations-- [Interruption.] --let me finish, If you would- - [Interruption.] --I have a much more attractive voice than you silly beggars--because of the non-attendance of British delegations, a Luddite policy that has been adopted by certain honourable dunderheads in the House?

Mr. Newton : I do not know that I would have cared to apply such a description to those at whom I understand it to have been aimed-- particularly the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), who appears to have other preoccupations, and apparently did not even hear what was said by her hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). Perhaps I should tell her that her hon. Friend was extremely unflattering about her.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow) : Later this afternoon, the House will have an opportunity to discuss certain aspects of local government finance ; presumably, in the fulness of time, we shall be given an opportunity to discuss local government structure, following the report of the Local Government Commission. Will my right hon. Friend consider providing us with an early opportunity to debate the functions of local government, and, in particular, to investigate whether the principle of subsidiarity is being fully applied in that context?

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Mr. Newton : I am sure that my hon. Friend's ingenuity, combined with his persistence in raising the matters that he clearly has in mind, will enable him to find some way of speaking on the occasions that I have already provided.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate early next week about quangos--especially their membership--with particular reference to Wales? Or is he happy with the present position, in which many members are still Tories, are unaccountable, and are often unelectable?

Mr. Newton : There is no question of appointees' being unaccountable, whatever their political provenance. We shall ensure that the bodies concerned are conducted properly, using every means at our command.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton) : Will my right hon. Friend please make time next week for an urgent debate on public expenditure? I feel that the House needs to analyse Labour's new policy of increasing spending on health, housing and overseas aid by £16 billion without raising taxes or increasing borrowing. Has Labour discovered a magic formula, or is it just an illusion?

Mr. Newton : I think that it is an attempt--probably the world's largest ever attempt--to have your cake and eat it. We see it every day. I am a bit confused about whether pledges not made in the House count in these calculations ; that appears to be another variant of the Opposition's habit of making promises that they can later disown.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On Tuesday, we are to debate the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill. Will a motion be tabled authorising the Procedure Committee to embark on the process of setting up another Committee to scrutinise the power that the Bill gives a Minister to repeal whole Acts of Parliament? Alternatively, before any such move is made, will the House have to wait until the Bill has been passsed before such a motion is tabled? If the Procedure Committee is embarking on the introduction of such a structure without the authority of the House, why is it doing so?

Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, is visibly present ; no doubt he will respond to what the hon. Gentleman has said, although I acknowledge that he cannot do so now. I have sent both the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend copies of a paper outlining some of the Government's ideas, and suggesting that we would welcome the thoughts of the Procedure Committee. I consider that an entirely appropriate and sensible way in which to proceed. We shall then be able to consider what matters should be put before the House.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) : Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the potential abolition of Avon county council, whose spending priorities are becoming ever more bizarre? Its decision this week to spend £100,000 on traveller liaison officers was greeted with outrage in my constituency, where these people are regarded as an absolute nuisance. Our only possible salvation will lie in the abolition of this dreadful, unwanted and unloved county council.

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Mr. Newton : Perhaps I might urge my hon. Friend--should he catch your eye, Madam Speaker--to repeat and elaborate on those remarks in the debate that will shortly take place.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston) : The Leader of the House referred to BST in his statement, but I apologise for not understanding exactly what he said. Will there be a debate on BST before the Government take a final decision on its use?

Mr. Newton : I announced that European Standing Committee A would be considering documents relating to bovine somatotrophin. The purpose of its deliberations is to inform the Government's approach.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Could we have a debate next week on the new decisions relating to aircraft noise and night flights over west London and elsewhere, in view of their great importance to my constituents, and the people of west London in general, who want no night flights at all?

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