|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Norris : My hon. Friend's constituents will either travel to Shenfield to use the line directly, or will otherwise take advantage of reduced congestion on existing services. They will gain benefits in journey time savings and reduced overcrowding.
Mrs. Gorman : I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. He should know that my constituents in Billericay who travel to Liverpool street each day are greatly looking forward to that new service, which I am sure, because it is largely privately funded, will set a new standard in the quality of service for passengers. Does he agree that the tube lines on which they currently make their journeys, especially the Central line, are grossly overcrowded and relatively underfunded ? Does he agree that we should seek private capital funding for the tube system to improve that service, too ?
Mr. Norris : My hon. Friend's basic thesis is entirely right. When one has exhausted the investment that the taxpayer can prudently make--an investment which, under the Government, is four times the level of the best years of the Labour Government--and when one has exhausted that which is contributable by the farepayer, the only sensible and prudent course for anyone who is concerned to improve the system is to consider how the private sector can be involved. Of course, it depends on the particular circumstances as to how it can be accomplished. However, I am delighted about my hon. Friend's support for crossrail. It will be a useful and imaginative project which will allow substantial participation by the private sector.
Mr. Tony Banks : I am somewhat equivocal about any means of transportation that gets the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) to the House of Commons quicker. Having said that, crossrail will be of great benefit to the whole of London. When can we expect crossrail to operate ?
Mr. Norris : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's question is not connected to the fact that, as I recall, the train runs directly underneath his house. He has a more than passing interest in the scheme. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Bill which is currently before the House will have to complete its proceedings and I cannot anticipate when that may be. When the powers of the Bill are obtained, it will be for the private sector and the promoters to get together to develop a financable scheme. My view is that it will be such an attractive scheme that there should
Column 13be little delay between the obtaining of the powers and the start of works. If that were the case, we may be looking at the operation of a crossrail scheme in the early days of the next century.
Mr. Evennett : I thank my right hon. Friend for his interesting reply. Does he agree that many people in London are keen that we should have a good transport system for the public sector and a good rail network, not only for business, but for commuters and the general public ? Does he further agree that only Conservatives believe in real choice in respect of public transport and the private use of motor cars, lorries and vans ?
Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend. The figures are somewhat different for London. There is not only much more Government subsidy into public transport in London than to roads, but more journeys are made by public transport. As an indication of the Government's contribution to public transport in London, it is worth noting that, at the moment, the capital grant to London Underground amounts to £300 a year per regular tube user and the subsidy for Network SouthEast is more than £400 a year for the average regular user.
Sir Peter Hordern (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission) : The Commission approved the National Audit Office's corporate plan for 1994-95 to 1998-99 in July 1993 and the estimate for 1994-95 in December. Those include provision for the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine, certify and report on the summarised accounts of NHS trusts and other NHS bodies and to visit individual NHS bodies to examine the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which the Department of Health and the NHS use their resources. Selection of topics for value for money investigation is a matter for the CAG in consultation with the Public Accounts Committee.
Mr. Hughes : I thank the Chairman for his answer. Will he ensure that the Comptroller and Auditor General and his staff examine the forthcoming budgetary provisions and consider the proposals, which are now in the public domain, as they affect Guy's hospital ? The proposal, about which the Chairman may have heard, would potentially considerably underuse a new building--Sir Philip Harris house--which has cost £140 million. I have referred the matter to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, who has passed it on to the CAG. Will the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission ensure that the Comptroller
Column 14is directed to look into that matter before a decision is made so that we are not considering waste afterwards, but preventing it in advance ?
Sir Peter Hordern : As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter for the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. However, I will draw the CAG's attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the CAG and the National Audit Office are carrying out a review of Treasury management of NHS trusts.
Sir Peter Hordern : The National Audit Office corporate plan is considered by the Public Accounts Commission in July each year. It sets out NAO efficiency and performance overall and the impacts of NAO work. In 1992, bodies audited made 173 significant changes as a result of value for money recommendations by the NAO and the Public Accounts Committee resulting in estimated savings of £204 million. National Audit Office financial audit work also led to wider improvements. In 1992, it recommended 208 significant changes in systems and controls which resulted in estimated savings of £34 million.
Mr. Ainsworth : I thank the Chairman for that reply. However, how does that impact on the effectiveness of the NAO when it can report into an organisation, as it did in respect of the Welsh Development Agency, only to discover that the people who were found to be culpable were popping up in other public posts ? For example, the discredited chief executive of the WDA subsequently ran the property department of the Further Education Funding Council on £46,000 a year. How can that possibly enhance the efficiency that the Commission is trying to achieve ? Should not such reports include recommendations as to whether those people are fit to continue as public servants ?
Sir Peter Hordern : That must be a matter for the PAC to recommend in the first place. If the hon. Gentleman has a complaint about any individual, he should refer it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. The CAG is concerned with the control of public expenditure and departmental expenditure in particular, but not with what happens to personnel.
Mr. Alan Howarth : Will my right hon. Friend ask the National Audit Office to make a cost-benefit analysis of the decision by the trustees of the independent living (1993) fund to exclude from support severely disabled people who are terminally ill ?
28. Ms Lynne : To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what consideration the Commission is giving to the extent to which the Comptroller and Auditor General can check on the use of public money once it has passed into private hands.
Sir Peter Hordern : The CAG's powers to check the use of public money are governed by statute. Where public money passes into private hands, the CAG's statutory powers are normally restricted to examining the activities and papers of the Department or agency issuing the funds. In some cases, the CAG also has rights to inspect the books and records of bodies receiving those funds, to ensure that the money has been spent as Parliament intended. Those inspection rights can be statutory as a condition of grant, or they can be built into contracts for services provided by the private sector. There can be advantages in doing so. The extension of the CAG's statutory powers is, of course, a matter for the House.
Ms. Lynne : I am grateful for that detailed reply. Does the Chairman agree that it would be better if the Comptroller and Auditor General could follow money through to its end use once it has left the Treasury, bearing in mind allegations about the Pergau dam ? That would bring us into line with many other countries.
Sir Peter Hordern : There is a strong case for that. The PAC recommended it some years ago and I understand that the PAC and the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee are now also considering it. It seems rather strange that the Audit Commission can appoint auditors who may follow every penny of public spending through local authorities and that the European Court of Auditors can do the same. I shall draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friends and, when I have done so, I shall write to the hon. Lady.
Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what financial provision has been made for the installation of annunciators in the offices of hon. Members' staff.
Mr. A. J. Beith (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission) : A figure of £260,000 has been included in the works services estimates for 1994-95 to start design work for the parliamentary data and video network, which could include the provision of annunciators in the offices of hon. Members' staff. Use of that provision will depend on approval by the House of the report from the Information Committee recommending the final form of the network.
Mr. Miller : I am grateful for that reply. The House might be aware that, a fortnight ago, an annunciator in a room of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) caught fire. That might have been an act of God. Indeed, one hon. Member suggested that it reflects the powers in this place.
On a serious note, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that expenditure on annunciators will be in the context of the new technologies that he described and not of keeping antiques going beyond their useful life, at a risk to hon. Members' staff, hon. Members and, indeed, this building ?
32. Mr. Austin-Walker : To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what representations he has received regarding smoking in the Palace of Westminster ; and what assessments he has made of the risks to persons and the fabric of the building.
Mr. Beith : In addition to questions from hon. Members, representations have been made by the trade unions. Although no specific assessment of the effects of smoking on individuals has been made, the House authorities are aware of the statutory requirements in that respect and of recent reports on the subject. The Accommodation and Works Committee recently considered a fire action plan, which includes a statement on the fire hazards caused by smoking.
Mr. Austin-Walker : Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the House should lead and not drag behind in public policy ? Is he satisfied that progress will be made if it is left to individual Departments ? Should not there be a co-ordinated approach, bearing in mind the fact, for example, that the Refreshment Department has only just implemented a ban to meet statutory requirements in food preparation areas ? Is the right hon. Gentleman convinced of the need for co-ordinated action to tackle the problem ?
Mr. Beith : Considerable progress is being made. The Refreshment Department is one of those which, relatively recently, announced comprehensive changes of policy, which I hope meet some of the hon. Gentleman's concerns. I will ensure that the Commission is made well aware of his point.
Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what steps the Commission is taking to increase the number of women employed in the House of Commons service.
An equal opportunities officer has been appointed to monitor the operation of the policy. In addition, a number of schemes have been introduced that take account of the needs of those with family responsibilities, such as career break schemes, part-time working, job sharing and holiday play schemes.
Mrs. Gorman : I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his answer. I am sure that he, like me, is aware of the enormous importance of highly skilled and dedicated women to the running of this place, especially those in the background jobs. Does he agree that it is surprising that, as yet, only two Departments are headed by women--the Library and the Refreshment Department ? I have observed that other Parliaments--in Australia, for instance--employ women as badge messengers. As a result of training over the generations, women are--if nothing else--very good at running after men to give them messages.
Column 17Commons, but important front-line jobs. I regard the fact that two Departments are now headed by women, after a long period when none was, as a mark of progress. I shall, however, draw the attention of the appropriate authorities to the hon. Lady's recommendation about messengers.
Mrs. Anne Campbell : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the employment of women would be greatly facilitated if there were arrangements for child care in the House ? He must be aware that the absence of such facilities limits employment opportunities for many women, especially those with young children and especially in view of our strange working hours.
Mr. Beith : I believe that child care provision would facilitate the employment of women in the House ; whether my assumption is correct is currently being tested in a survey conducted by the Administration Committee, whose results we await. There are some practical difficulties connected with where such facilities could be housed which the Accommodation and Works Committee has often drawn to our attention. When we receive the results of the survey and the Administration Committee's recommendation, however, we may be able to take the matter further.
35. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what financial provision has been made in the House of Commons Administration estimate for 1994-95 in respect of services for visitors to the Palace.
Mr. Beith : Financial provision in the financial year 1994-95 for facilities for all types of visitors is contained mainly in the estimate for works services. It includes an initial sum of £250,000 for measures to improve access for the disabled, funds to improve the line of route and the provisional allocation of £50,000 for an additional souvenir kiosk. Other costs are borne on the administration vote, but cannot be separately identified.
Mr. Coombs : I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his reply. Is he aware of the pent-up demand among visitors to London, who want to come into the Palace and view this major tourist attraction ? Will he use his good offices in the cause of trying to develop a scheme that will enable those visitors to enter the Palace during the summer recess, when it is more or less empty, so that the House and the Palace in general can benefit from the resulting revenue ? That revenue could accrue to help with improvements of one kind or another.
Mr. Beith : I have a great deal of sympathy with the general objective of creating more opportunities for visitors. The Library's education division organises school parties during the summer recess and there may be scope for extending that scheme ; but responsibility lies with the relevant Committee rather than with the Commission. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the Committee's attention.
36. Mr. Jim Marshall : To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed, representing the House of Commons Commission, what financial provision has been made in the estimate for improvement of facilities for disabled visitors to the House of Commons.
Mr. Marshall : I thank the right hon. Gentleman for warning me of the figure involved in his answer to question 35. Does he agree, however, that even following the expenditure of £250,000 facilities for the disabled visitor to the Palace of Westminster will still be extremely poor ? Will he ensure that in future years, particularly the next financial year, provision will be much greater ?
Mr. Beith : A specialised report on the subject by an architect with noted experience in the field is currently under consideration. When it has been considered by the appropriate Committees, it may help to guide the Commission about the extent of the further facilities that are needed, and can be accommodated, in a building which--unfortunately--was not designed with the interests of disabled people sufficiently in mind.
29. Mrs. Anne Campbell : To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what funds will be made available for the National Audit Office to investigate the work of the Overseas Development Administration.
Sir Peter Hordern (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission) : The Commission approved the National Audit Office's corporate plan for 1994-95 to 1998-99 in July 1993 and the estimate for 1994-95 in December. The funds enable the National Audit Office to audit the financial accounts of all Government Departments, including the Overseas Development Administration, and also to deliver about 50 major value for money outputs to Parliament each year. Selection of topics for investigation is based on a systematic review of expenditure and value for money, including the Overseas Development Administration, but the final decision on whether to proceed with an investigation is a matter for the Comptroller and Auditor General, in consultation with the Public Accounts Committee.
Sir Peter Hordern : As the hon. Lady knows, the Comptroller and Auditor General has reported to the Public Accounts Committee, but I understand that the Committee has not yet issued its report. The Pergau dam is also being investigated by the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee and it is for those Committees to report to the House.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : There were 402 Divisions last Session, which took on average about 14 minutes, giving an approximate time of some 94 hours spent in Divisions.
Ms Hoey : I thank the Lord President for that piece of mathematics. Is it sensible that, in this day and age, hon. Members spend days in a Session on voting procedures ? Is not it time that we all looked at this matter more sensibly and came up with a system more like that which is operated in other parts of Europe, so that we do not spend hours hanging around this place late at night ? Would not that allow us to get on with our proper business of running the country ?
Mr. Newton : I sense some ingredients of an own-goal and also some squirming by hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench, whose recent practice has extended not only to unnecessary voting by any reasonable standards, but to voting against pensions increases in the interests of taking up time. Although I am certainly amenable to suggestions that might avoid such absurdities, the remedy at the moment is in the hands of others.
Mr. Jessel : Does my right hon. Friend accept that many Government Back Benchers greatly value the fact that we are able to buttonhole and corner Ministers while waiting to vote in the Lobby and that we would greatly resent the loss of that opportunity ?
Mr. Banks : May I point out to the Leader of the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey) was talking about the time that is spent voting, not the issues on which we are spending the time ? Would not voting machines be one way of speeding up the voting procedure ? Is not it about time that this place was dragged into the 20th century ?
The Chamber is not particularly historic ; it dates back only to the 1950s. Should not hon. Members have allocated places and desks where we could sit and write properly ? From a personal point of view, one of the advantages of
Column 20having allocated places would be that I would not have to fight off the buttocks of the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) every Tuesday and Thursday ?
Mr. Newton : The prospect of moving to electronic voting would not command universal support, as has been made clear, and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) advanced quite an important argument. I will say that the prospect of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) being replaced by an electronic bleep is quite exciting.
Mr. Barnes : One of the few avenues open to Back-Bench Members is tabling parliamentary questions for written answer and early-day motions. It is a useful avenue for those Members who are not Privy Councillors or Members of Parliament who have been here since the year dot. Why cannot that avenue be available during the increasingly long recesses so that we can push the interests of our constituents ?
Mr. Newton : Both procedures are associated with the sittings of Parliament. It would be a large step to activate them while Parliament was not sitting. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has put his proposals to the Chairman of the Procedure Committee. If the Procedure Committee made such a proposal, of course we would consider it with care, but it is not something which I would want to do without careful thought and advice.
Mr. Flynn : Is the Leader of the House worried about the great increase in the number of statutory instruments ? They have increased by at least 50 per cent. since 1979. Does not that greatly devalue the role of Back-Bench Members and degrade the quality of our democracy ?
Mr. Newton : I do not think that it devalues the role of Back-Bench Members of Parliament, given the opportunities that exist to debate statutory instruments in the Standing Committees and the well-established convention--I know that there are some difficulties at present--from which we certainly would not wish to depart, that statutory instruments of sufficient importance are given time on the Floor of the House. I believe that that is a reasonable and sensible approach.
|Next Section (Debates)