Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : on a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek advice in relation to the way in which Scottish Question Time was conducted this afternoon. At the beginning, the Secretary of State announced that he was to link Questions 1 and 7. I had been notified that that was his intention and phoned his private office before lunch to say that the Opposition would find that objectionable.
Question 1 asks when the Secretary of State
"last met the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise".
Question 7 asks when the Secretary of State
"next plans to meet representatives of the Scottish Trades Union Congress".
Both questions relate to discussions on the Scottish economy, but involve two radically different organisations that are likely, despite their common concern about the way the Government run the Scottish economy, to have two different views on the remedy. The Secretary of State answered only three questions out of the 15 reached in today's Question Time. If he then chooses to link two of the substantial questions, he reduces even further our opportunities to cross-examine him. Surely there should be some safeguard for the House against a Cabinet Minister unilaterally choosing to link questions because there may be an apparent connection between them. If that policy were taken to its logical conclusion, all the questions could be linked because they related to Scotland.
Madam Speaker : I have done a little calculation myself, and the House may be interested to know that I called seven supplementary questions in connection with the two linked questions to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not criticising my conduct. The decision whether or not to link questions is entirely at the discretion of the relevant Minister.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : on a point of order, Madam Speaker. in reply to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), the Under-Secretary said that the consultation document would involve genuine consultation. Can the House have guidelines on which consultation exercises will be genuine and which will not ?
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : It is more a matter of guidance than a point of order that I wish to raise. It relates to an organisation that you chair, Madam Speaker, so I thought that it should be brought to your attention.
In a foreign legislature yesterday, and earlier in the Anglo-Irish conference, decisions taken by the Northern Ireland Parliamentary Boundary Commission were called into question. It was alleged that the decisions taken by that organisation were discriminatory. That raises a matter of constitutional importance of interest not only to the House but to the whole country. A foreign Government are now trying to overturn decisions made by a commission of which you, Madam Speaker, are
Column 278the chairperson. I should be grateful if you would tell the House what steps the House and Her Majesty's Government may take to refute that interference by Dublin, which goes beyond all reasonable bounds.
Mr. Brian Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) : on a point of order, Madam Speaker. Why, during the past four Scottish questions, have I failed to catch your eye ? My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) says that it has something to do with my tie. Will you advise me whether that is the case ?
Madam Speaker : The latter point of order is most welcome. I recognise that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) has stood up on practically every question. It is not possible for me to call all Scottish Members during question time
Madam Speaker : Order. If the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) has a criticism to make, he should stand up so that we can have a proper exchange about it. I am replying to a point of order, and do not expect seated interventions when I am on my feet. As I was saying, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South has stood up on every question. I regret that I have been unable to call him. I look on that Back Bench because it contains many handsome Members. Without any commitment, the hon. Gentleman can be sure that I shall look his way in future.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : on a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am in a little difficulty, because the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) made an interesting contribution to the debate on the intelligence services, in column 205 of yesterday's Official Report . The only problem is that the speech is attributed to me. Although I agree with much that he said, the record should be corrected.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : The point of order that I wish to raise with you, Madam Speaker, is on the transferring of questions. I wish to establish where responsibility lies and what powers the Chair has to protect the interests of hon. Members. My specific example is that I tabled an oral question for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the subject of the fish farming industry. Unilaterally, the Ministry has transferred the question to the Scottish Office. If I wanted to ask the Scottish Office, I would ask the Scottish Office. on such a matter, there are shades of opinion and different roles. The crucial point is that the lead Ministry in dealings with Europe is the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Madam Speaker : The Minister himself determines where his responsibilities lie and whether he is responsible for the question. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that a question has been transferred unjustly and unnecessarily, he should raise the matter with the Minister.
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it in order for a member of the Opposition Front Bench to visit the Press Gallery ? I spent some 19 years up there and have never known that to happen before.
Madam Speaker : I should have thought that a Member elected to this House had access to all parts of it. I have never been in the Press Gallery, but I understand that all the press can see of me are my buckled shoes.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : Further to a previous point of order, Madam Speaker, on Members' rights regarding the linking of questions. It is a more general point than the one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson). When questions are linked, it is for the convenience not of Members but of the Executive.
The House does not exist for the convenience of Ministers, but for the convenience of hon. Members. There have been many occasions when the linking of questions has not been notified in time to hon. Members whose questions have been linked. When questions are linked, even if that is admissible, it is a matter of interest not only to the Ministers and hon. Members whose questions are linked, but to any hon. Member who might wish to participate in Question Time and who might come in for Question 8, but find that it has already been dealt with after being linked with Question 1.
Is it beyond the wit of the organisation of the House for notification of which questions are being linked to be available in the morning to all hon. Members ?
Madam Speaker : If hon. Members are seeking to change our procedures on the matter, it may be something that the Procedure Committee could usefully consider. The hon. Gentleman advanced two interesting points. He was right to say that sometimes hon. Members are not notified. That has happened when I have been in the Chair. When it occurs, of course I allow the hon. Member concerned to ask his question separately and I have done so recently.
Column 280When questions are linked, I understand the extent of interest, and I tend to allow more supplementary questions and I call hon. Members who are interested in the issue. The first point may be a matter that the Procedure Committee will wish to consider.
Mr. John Home Robertson : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I should like to apologise if I irritated you earlier. I assure you that I was not complaining, but simply observing that Scottish Conservative Members can always be called at Scottish questions. That is clearly a problem of Scottish political arithmetic. It has nothing to do with you, Madam Speaker, and I assure you that I was not complaining.
The substantive point of order that I want to raise concerns another matter. There has been another instance of a very important announcement, which should have been made through an oral statement by a Minister in the House, appearing as a planted question on the Order Paper.
I am referring to Question 180, which deals with further redundancies in the Army. That is a serious matter, which affects many people in the armed forces, including some personnel on active service in Bosnia. I appeal to you, Madam Speaker, to put it to Ministers that, where possible, statements of that nature should be made as oral statements in the House, and should not be sneaked in via planted written questions.
Madam Speaker : First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the preamble to his point of order. He knows that it is entirely up to the Minister whether he makes a statement at the Dispatch Box or in answer to a written question. I understand that the answer to today's question is the third such announcement under the Government's "Options for Change" policy--there has been no change of policy. It is not for me to make the Government's case ; I am simply trying to explain to the hon. Gentleman that a written answer is not unusual in these circumstances.
Mr. Colin Pickthall, supported by Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Andrew Bowden, Mrs. Anne Campbell, Mr. Harry Cohen, Mr. Martyn Jones, Mr. Mike Hall, Mr. Terry Lewis, Mr. Alan Meale, Mr. Elliott Morley, Mr. Edward O'Hara and Mr. Roger Stott, presented a Bill to make hare coursing illegal ; to prohibit the use of any place for or in connection with hare coursing ; to provide for the confiscation of any animal or equipment used or to be used for or in connection with hare coursing ; and for connected purposes : and the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 18 March, and to be printed. [Bill 57.]
Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West) : I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for employers' and employees' pension contributions to be paid into personally owned funds registered for the purpose of future pension payment.
A lot of attention in the House and elsewhere has rightly been paid to the problems that are caused when pension funds are embezzled and illegal action takes place.
I pay tribute to the work being done by the Select Committee on Social Security, which is trying to bring a public focus to bear on the issues that are raised. There has also been a lot of focus on the mismanagement of pension funds. Out of respect to my right hon. Friend the Member Selby (Mr. Alison), who I see present, I shall not say too much about the Church Commissioners.
What has not received enough attention is the perfectly legal disadvantage suffered by many pensioners as a result of their decision to move jobs for one reason for another, or because they have been made redundant.
The problem of early leavers is particularly acute, and that is what I want to address by means of the Bill. As a society, we increasingly expect mobility. The age when my grandfather left school at 14 and worked for the same employer for the whole of his working life has long since passed. Most contemporary workers would expect to work for more than one company and perhaps in more than one industry in the course of their working lives. If the provisions of private pensions disadvantage those people in moving from job to job or from industry to industry, the matter needs to be addressed and set right.
Hon. Members have said many times that civil servants should be able to move backwards and forwards from the civil service to industry, local government and academia, and even to consultancies. Everybody would benefit from that, but the constant block is the consequence for pensions, and only secondment is possible. People are unwilling to move from job to job because of the loss of pension entitlement that would result.
The matter concerns many hon. Members and also worries many people who come to my surgery, especially during a time of recession, when people may be made redundant and have to change careers. I expect that almost every hon. Member has had such experiences in his surgery.
The present pensions system seems to be entirely based on those who always work for the same company, those who are fortunate enough to work in an industry that has
Column 282a common pensions system so that when they change companies they are not disadvantaged, or those who are powerful enough to negotiate, as part of their package for changing jobs, an enhancement of pension rights so that they do not suffer.
Those who are particularly disadvantaged are people whose occupations have high job mobility and for which there is no common scheme. The disadvantaged also include women who may stop working to have a family or because they wish to have experience in other professions, whether related to their own or in an entirely different field, or perhaps in voluntary work. Others return to part-time work in later life. As a result of redundancy, especially in later years, many people are forced to draw an early pension and do not receive the benefit they might otherwise expect.
Present pension fund arrangements mean that people can draw the pension when they reach pension age, and perhaps their wives and husbands can draw it when the person dies, but there are restrictive rules about accumulated pension rights being passed to families or charities or to any other beneficiary that the pension holder had in mind.
The Bill sets out to ensure that employers' contributions, like those of employees, are set aside and accumulated with profits, so that if someone wishes to change his job, he can simply take them to the next job. The effect is cumulative, in that the employers' and employees' contributions and profits are added throughout the career of the worker. The Bill also provides an opportunity for additional contributions, which will result in more benefits later in life. The issue will come to the House again and again because, as society changes, more and more people will undoubtedly find themselves caught out by the present arrangements. I have no hesitation in commending the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Robert B. Jones, Mr. David Amess, Mr. David Lidington, Mr. Barry Field, Mr. Richard Page, Mr. Jerry Hayes, Mr. Jacques Arnold and Mr. John Marshall.
Mr. Robert B. Jones accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for employers' and employees' pension contributions to be paid into personally owned funds registered for the purpose of future pension payment : and the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 4 March, and to be printed. [Bill 58.]
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I cannot understand why my amendment to delete Wales from the provisions of the Bill was not selected. No other amendments are anything like that amendment, and there is no opportunity for me or my colleagues to raise the issue, because, once again, the amendment has not been selected.
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman complains about the non-selection of his amendment. The selection of amendments is the responsibility of the Speaker. I have looked at them carefully to make my selection for today's debate.
Mr. Jones rose
(1) A local authority may resolve that Schedule [ Loading and unloading at large shops on Sunday morning ] to this Act is to apply to their area.
(2) If a local authority do so resolve, Schedule [ Loading and unloading at large shops on Sunday morning ] shall come into force in their area on such date as may be specified for that purpose in the resolution, being a date at least one month after the date on which the resolution is passed.'.-- [Mr. Peter Lloyd.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Lloyd : I gave a commitment in Standing Committee to consider the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), among others, about deliveries to large shops in residential areas on Sunday mornings. The worry was that, if shops opened at 10 am, local people could be disturbed by deliveries arriving early in the morning.
We have discussed the matter with local authority organisations and retailers, and I am extremely grateful to them, particularly the local authority organisations, for their prompt advice.
As I said in Committee, there are already a range of powers to deal with noise nuisance, and most stores want to be regarded as good neighbours, especially by potential customers living nearby. However, the local authorities were clear that they would like a specific power between exhortation and general statutory powers. The new clause and schedule bridge that gap.
Column 284The new clause permits a local authority to take the powers in the schedule which will enable it to prohibit deliveries before 9 am--late enough to preserve the quiet of an early Sunday morning. If the local authority proceeds in that way, a shop may still apply for consent for deliveries to take place before 9 am. Consent must be granted after consultation with local residents, unless the local authority believes that the deliveries will cause undue disturbance to those living nearby.
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton) : in the discussions with local authorities and local authority associations, was any comment made about the fact that local authorities are so strapped for resources that it would be extremely difficult for them to police such activities on Sunday mornings ? If not, will the Minister seek their views on policing them ?
Mr. Lloyd : That point was not put to me. Local authorities are glad to have a more simple power, so that they may use fewer resources than if they were to use the wider statutory powers they already have. Although I understand that all local authorities would like more resources, it will not use up more resources but will enable them to carry out their task more speedily and efficiently in the interests of local residents.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Does my hon. Friend accept that local residents would also be efficient policemen of that power ? If they were disturbed by lorries before 9 o'clock where that permission had been refused, I guarantee that they would be willing to be witnesses and to complain to the authority the next morning, if not that day.
Mr. Lloyd : I am sure that my hon. Friend is quite right. All I would add to what I have just said is that there are a number of other amendments in the group. They are all technical, defining "local authority" for this purpose and the purposes of the Bill in general.
I am quite sure that everyone, whether they are in favour of or opposed to Sunday opening, will welcome the extra powers that local authorities will now have to deal with the noise nuisance that opening may cause.
As the Minister acknowledged, Labour raised in Committee a number of amendments designed to explore the environmental impact of Sunday trading.
The Minister referred in Committee, as he did today, to the measures already available to local authorities under the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and Environmental Protection Act 1990. We acknowledge their importance and the existing provisions of planning law, but maintain that additional powers should be granted to local authorities, to recognise the consequences of much-increased Sunday trading.
In pursuing that matter, we reflect the concerns of our constituents and their local authority representatives. I am glad that the Minister accepts the importance of the issue and, through these amendments, has allowed us to address it. Both the hon. Gentleman and I have maintained close contact with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and other organisations, which in turn consulted their members.
Column 285The response of the director of health and community services for Gateshead metropolitan borough council is typical. That authority confirms that it has had to deal with disturbance to residents caused by deliveries to supermarkets. Gateshead's director of health and community services wrote :
"Disturbance can be widespread and at locations remote from the supermarket due to the movement of large articulated delivery lorries passing through residential areas.
Noise at or near the supermarket is caused by the manoeuvring of large delivery vehicles ; lorry reverse warning signals ; the idling of lorry engines which is required to power ancillary equipment such as lifts ; the movement of large metal containers over hard surfaces, and the shouting of delivery/supermarket personnel.
It is the experience of this Authority that people living near or on the route to a supermarket will tolerate a certain degree of disamenity from the above-mentioned sources, but only during less noise-sensitive times of the day eg Monday to Saturday, 8 am to 6 pm."
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire) : I have sympathy with some of the hon. Lady's points, but does she not concede that vigorous application of highways Acts would discourage and make illegal deliveries before 9 am, if that caused a nuisance ?
Ms Ruddock : The hon. Gentleman may have shared my experience and that of other hon. Members. When constituents bring noise problems to one's attention and one requests the local authority to address them through the legislation to which the hon. Gentleman referred, the process is cumbersome and lengthy. The nuisance must be caused before action can be taken, whereas the merit of the Minister's proposals is that it would be possible to try to prevent the nuisance arising in the first place.
The letter from Gateshead's director of health and community services continues :
"Planning legislation and planning conditions are a useful means of avoiding disturbance from deliveries and have been used effectively by this Authority. However planning conditions will only apply to new development and cannot be applied retrospectively. Early morning or late night deliveries can cause acute noise problems and complainants demand a speedy remedy.
The Noise Abatement Zone provisions and procedures of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 which are lengthy are therefore not the answer.
Not every superstore is in a location where there is a potential for disturbance, however many are, and so each case must be judged on its merits. I would support a procedure which would require each superstore to notify a local authority of its intentions so that the effects on local residents can be assessed. The procedure should promote discussion between Local Authorities and superstores so that sensible agreement can be reached."
That "sensible agreement" would, we hope, follow notification of Sunday opening by large stores to their local authorities under the registration scheme that is central to the Bill. However, experience tells us that, often, much damage is done and offence caused before remedies are provided under existing environmental protection law.
Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central) : Will the hon. Lady confirm that these problems arise mostly from what she is describing as superstores ? Whichever way we look at it, there will be some activity, whether it is noise, or those people who are having to work to prevent noise and police the whole thing. Does she accept that those problems could not arise were those large stores simply not allowed to open on a Sunday ?
Ms Ruddock : There is an undeniable logic in that point, but, as the hon. Member will recall--as I recall today and recalled during much of the proceedings in Committee--the House in its wisdom decided that the larger stores, the superstores, should be allowed to trade on Sunday for a limited period of six hours.
Ms Ruddock : If they are to trade, I consider it my duty and that of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to endeavour in every way possible to try to ameliorate the problems that could be so caused. 4 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill) : I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I agree with her that a lack of wisdom was shown. Does that mean that she will now support the amendments to be called later today to limit the size of shops that can open ?