Home Page

Column 1073

Business of the House

3.30 pm

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East) : Will the Leader of the House state the forthcoming business of the House ?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : Yes, Madam Speaker. The business for nexweek will be as follows :

Monday 7 March----Motion on the Building Societies (EFTA States) Order.

Motion on the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order.

Tuesday 8 March----Remaining stages of the Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Bill.

Motion on the Pastoral (Amendment) Measure.

Wednesday 9 March----Motion on the Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (Continuance) Order. Motions to amend Standing Orders to establish a Select Committee related to Northern Ireland affairs.

Thursday 10 March----Opposition Day (7th Allotted Day). There will be a debate described as "Strengthening of the Sex Discrimination Act", on an Opposition motion.

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

Monday 14 March----Estimates Day (2nd Allotted Day) (1st Part) Until seven o'clock, there will be a debate on housing, in so far as it relates to the Department of the Environment's grants in aid to the Housing Corporation.

At Ten o'clock, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding excess votes, supplementary estimates and defence votes A. The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

Mr. Brown : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and for the Opposition day. May I ask him to confirm that it is a requirement on all hon. Members to complete the declaration of Members' interests in the form agreed by the House ? Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that all hon. Members are required to comply with the decision of the House and to complete the form ?

Madam Speaker : Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is going to ask for a debate on the matter, but may I remind him that it is not so far a business question ? I am looking for business questions to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Brown : You anticipate my next move, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman will remember that, in my statement just a week ago, I asked for no long preambles or statements before coming to a question.

Mr. Brown : It is indelibly printed on my mind, Madam Speaker. May I therefore ask the Leader of the House to arrange for an early statement from the Attorney-General on the consistency of the legal advice that he gives to Ministers ? Many hon. Members would like to question the Attorney- General on this point--including, I suspect, his ministerial colleagues.

May I also ask the Leader of the House to arrange for statements in the House on the latest policy changes relating to Home Office legislation and to Department for Education legislation ? It is all very interesting to read

Column 1074

about these policy changes in the newspapers, but we would quite like to cross-examine Ministers about these matters here in the House.

Mr. Newton : I observe mildly that that contains an above-average number of what I can only describe as rather mischievous questions. I am grateful, at least, for the hon. Gentleman's kind words about the Opposition day.

As regards the Register of Members' Interests, Madam Speaker, I can do no better--indeed, I would not dare to try--than repeat the points that you yourself made in responding to a point of order a day or two ago.

As regards the Attorney-General, my right hon. and learned Friend has made it quite clear that he offered consistent advice, and I made some comments to that effect when answering on behalf of the Prime Minister on Tuesday. My right hon. and learned Friend will give evidence to the Scott inquiry in due course, and I think that the hon. Gentleman would be well advised to wait for that rather than making such requests. As for requests for statements about legislation being considered in another place, the hon. Gentleman would be the first to complain if statements were made in another place about legislation being considered here.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington) : May I raise with my right hon. Friend a matter of some urgency, and perhaps even of constitutional importance ? As we, as a British Parliament--I emphasise the word "Parliament", rather than "Government"--are reneging on treaty responsibilities concerning our representation in the Western European Union Assembly, the Council of Europe and the North Atlantic Assembly, does my right hon. Friend not think that we should find time for a debate on the subject to consider whether we should temporarily withdraw from those institutions, or even consider staffing our representation with unelected peers from all parties, so that we can keep some continuity going ?

Mr. Newton : I note my hon. Friend's suggestions, but more importantly I note the continued concern that he expresses. He knows perfectly well that the absence of pairing is the cause of the problems, and that can be resolved only by the people sitting and staring on the Opposition Front Bench at this moment.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : As a former Minister responsible for people with disabilities, will the Leader of the House acknowledge the importance of the private Member's Bill to be discussed on Friday 11 March, the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, with which the name of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) is associated ? What view do the Government take of the Bill ? If it is given a Second Reading, will it be possible for further stages to be taken in Government time ?

Mr. Newton : I acknowledge the importance of the issue. My right hon. Friend will of course make the Government's position clear in the course of the debate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members interested in such matters will acknowledge that a further significant step forward for disabled people was taken on Monday, with the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment of a greatly improved access to work scheme.

Column 1075

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week on overseas students funded out of the overseas aid budget, with a view to examining statements made by Labour Members both currently and in days gone by ? Although such people come to our country to obtain education for themselves, their presence is also a means of extending influence to the countries from which they come. Is that legitimate or not ?

Mr. Newton : I do not feel that I can promise an early debate, but one of our aims is certainly to ensure that precisely that influence is gained, by whatever means can properly used.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Will the Leader of the House use his ministerial muscle next week to get the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to help hon. Members on the Standing Committee on the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, in Committee Room 14, with a statement explaining the Government's assumptions that challenge the local authorities' estimate of a cost of £720 million, with no new money ?

Mr. Newton : Of course, we have had Treasury questions today. I believe that the hon. Gentleman raised the same issue with me some time ago, and I drew it to the attention of my ministerial colleagues. However, I am sure that the Scottish Office Ministers dealing with the Bill will have given the Committee full and proper information.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on the facilities provided in the House ? Is he aware that, when hon. Members sponsor functions here on Saturdays, tours are not allowed on Saturday nights--although that is being reconsidered--and that, if the function is at Saturday lunchtime, people are not allowed to look at the Chamber ? Can anyone explain why, as the staff have to be here anyway, those doors cannot be opened ? Can we have a debate, and can my right hon. Friend say who makes those decisions ?

Mr. Newton : Those decisions are, of course, for the House authorities, although there are Committees that might make representations on the subject. My hon. Friend had already put that point to me informally. I had noted it, and I shall do my best to ensure that it is carefully considered.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich) : The House has already debated the Tomlinson report, and on the basis of that report the Secretary of State for Health has embarked upon a wholesale programme of hospital closures and bed reductions. On Monday this week Professor Jarman gave evidence to an inquiry that I was chairing, suggesting that the report was based on a false premise. In view of the fact that that information was not to hand when the previous debate was held, will the Lord President of the Council find time for a debate next week, so that we can discuss Professor Jarman's findings and re-examine the Tomlinson report ?

Mr. Newton : My understanding is not only that Professor Jarman's analysis is not new, but that Sir Bernard Tomlinson received evidence directly from Professor Jarman.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : As Britain slips and slides towards further involvement in

Column 1076

Bosnia, will my right hon. Friend ensure that there will be an early debate on that subject so that the Government may hear the widespread view among those on the Conservative Benches that we do not want to become involved in a British Vietnam, and that there is no national interest involved in that tragic country ?

Mr. Newton : I have three comments. First, I have often made it clear that I shall seek to arrange both statements and debates when that seems appropriate. Secondly, my hon. Friend will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said only a few minutes ago. Thirdly, the Ministry of Defence is top for questions next Tuesday, when my hon. Friend may be able to raise the matter.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : Will the Leader of the House elaborate on Wednesday's business concerning motions to amend Standing Orders to establish a Select Committee for the north of Ireland ? Will he clarify what motions will be tabled, so that there will be no doubt that the Government will not interfere in the Committee of Selection's business ?

Given that the Select Committee has been imposed against the wishes of a substantial number of hon. Members, and that the proposed membership is unfair to one section of us represented in the House, will he further assure the House that ample time will be made available for debate during the presentation of the motions ?

Mr. Newton : I must gently point out that the hon. Gentleman can hardly expect me to confirm, as I would, that membership is a matter for the Committee of Selection, and then engage in debate about who should or should not be included in the membership.

There will be three motions. The first will make appropriate adjustments to the terms of reference of Select Committees generally ; the second will set up the Northern Ireland Select Committee and give it its terms of reference ; and the third will change the name of the present Northern Ireland Committee under Standing Order No. 99 to make it the Northern Ireland Grand Committee. The total number of Members will be set out, but not the detail.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : Will my right hon. Friend consider providing time for a debate on the report of the Hansard commission ? He will know that hon. Members have a growing interest in the way in which the House carries out its business, and that such a debate would be a reasonable way to start the ball rolling.

Mr. Newton : I have carefully considered my hon. Friend's recent Adjournment debate, which was answered by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Services and Science. I have also studied the report. It contains much that is worth considering, but I cannot promise an early debate.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East) : May we have a debate on this year's standard spending assessment settlement, because an awful lot of its detail has become known since it was announced ? For instance, Westminster city council has received more than £4.2 million to deal with homelessness, and is now making a profit off the backs of the people who are sleeping on its pavements. In that debate, we could perhaps hear a justification for that, and gain an understanding of how it happened.

Column 1077

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman, despite his attempt to come up with a reason for a further debate, knows that the House has had opportunities to debate the revenue support grant orders recently.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) : Will my right hon. Friend make time available for a debate on the common agricultural policy, particularly since it has recently been discovered that a paper has been suppressed by the Commission in Brussels ? That clearly shows that the system is almost unworkable. The CAP costs our citizens at least £1,000 a year extra on their food bills. I therefore urge him to make time available to discuss that document, and the role of the Commission in the matter.

Mr. Newton : I am not sure that my hon. Friend can be confident of his suggestion about suppression. As I understand it, work is being done on such a paper. It is certainly true that the Government will continue to support sensible efforts at CAP reform.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : It has been two months since it was exposed that a Conservative Back Bencher, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), made £50,000 on buying the council house next door to his house in Westminster. Cannot we have a debate on the whole question of the right to buy, especially as that hon. Gentleman still refuses to pay back to the ratepayers of Westminster the £50,000 that he ripped off them ?

Mr. Newton rose

Madam Speaker : Order. The last few words of the hon. Gentleman's question were quite unacceptable and I hope that he will withdraw them. I understand his sentiments, but I cannot accept those words, and I am asking him him to withdraw them.

Mr. Campbell-Savours rose

Hon. Members : Withdraw.

Madam Speaker : Order. Just a moment. I wish Members would not interfere when I am dealing with the situation.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : It is my belief that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton ripped off the ratepayers of Westminster to the tune of £50,000. I am afraid that I have absolutely no intention of withdrawing what I know to be the truth.

Madam Speaker : I will not allow the hon. Gentleman to use that phrase in the question as he has done. He can withdraw it, and he can rephrase the question, which would be totally acceptable. I ask him to reconsider and rephrase it.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : I have been asking questions about this for eight weeks on behalf of ratepayers in Westminster, so that the money can be returned. I am afraid that I am not in a position to withdraw any statement that I have made to Parliament on these matters.

Madam Speaker : I am not asking the hon. Gentleman to withdraw statements that he has made previously or the statement that he has made today. I am asking him to withdraw the words "ripped off". That is all that I am asking him to do--to withdraw those words and to rephrase his question. His statement can stand ; I have no

Column 1078

objection to that. I am simply asking him to withdraw the last two or three words he used. He has certainly made statements over a number of weeks, all of which are acceptable in the House. Those last few words are not acceptable, and I ask him to reconsider.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Madam Speaker, I hold you, as you know, in the greatest of respect. I have to say to you that, repeatedly over the 14 years that I have been a Member of this House, I have heard reference to "ripping off". On that basis, in so far as a precedent has been set by those before me, I am afraid that I am not in a position to withdraw it.

Madam Speaker : I think that the hon. Gentleman has not heard that phrase in respect of one hon. Member. It may have been used in a corporate context, but not in that way. I am asking him please to reconsider. I have the utmost respect for him and the way in which he pursues matters here. All that I am expecting him to do is to rephrase those few words. His statement still stands.

Mr. Campbell-Savours indicated dissent .

Madam Speaker : I am afraid, if he does not, I must ask him to leave the House for the remainder of this day's sitting. I hope that he will rephrase it.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Then I shall leave the House, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member, having used a grossly disorderly expression, was ordered by Madam Speaker-- to withdraw the same, but he declined to comply with that direction ; whereupon Madam Speaker--, pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Disorderly conduct), ordered him to withdraw immediately from the House for the remainder of this day's Sitting, and he withdrew accordingly.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North) : May I ask my right hon. Friend if he would allocate time for a debate on Community enlargement ? Is he aware that the enlargement talks in Brussels, far from being the success that has been portrayed, are being held to ransom by the Spanish Government, who are trying to take away the blocking minority in the Council of Ministers, and who are trying to invade Norwegian waters with their fishing vessels ? Should we not have a debate on that matter to expose that double dealing ?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend will know that there has been a lot of progress in those negotiations, especially with Sweden, Finland and Austria, and negotiations are continuing with Norway. I do not want to comment in the way in which he invites me to do so while those negotiations are continuing. Of course, we wish to give details to the House as soon as those negotiations are concluded.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : In the light of that response from the Leader of the House, is it his understanding that negotiations with Norway have been put on ice for a further week ? Does he not accept that there is a desperate need for Members to be advised on the terms of the negotiations in the context of the applicant members ? None of us has been advised of what was laid on the table by the various Ministers during those

Column 1079

negotiations and matters seem to fall between two Committees--the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Scrutiny Committee.

Could he therefore ensure that a mechanism is established whereby those hon. Members who are interested in the generalities and the specifics of the common fisheries policy are at least able to ask Ministers what is being said during those negotiations ?

Mr. Newton : I can confirm that fisheries issues are one of the difficult areas of discussion, especially in relation to Norway, and I will consider the hon. Lady's point.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) : Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on early-day motion 618, which graphically exposes the Liberal Democrats' position on Europe and their willingness to abandon our national veto, which could result in the loss of Britain's European rebate and the end of zero-rated VAT items ? [ That this House notes the hypocrisy of the Liberal Democratic Party over its policy on Europe ; recalls the statement of Liberal Democrats' spokesman on Europe, the honourable Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber, that the Nation state in terms of the old concept of sovereignty has seen its day' (Official Report, 26th June 1991, column 1365) ; contrasts these remarks with his party's new policy of decentralised federalism' ; believes that this new policy is contradicted by a long list of centralising proposals supported by the Liberal Democrats which include signing up to the Social Chapter, signing up now for a timetable for a single currency, a common defence and security policy, a common immigration policy, a common rural policy and, most significantly, accepting majority voting in the Council of Ministers, meaning the end of the national veto ; believes that they have sought to disguise centralising policies, designed to create a United States of Europe, in decentralising rhetoric ; and believes this to be a blatant attempt to mislead the electorate in the hope of gaining political advantage in the forthcoming European elections. ]

Mr. Newton : Again, that is a debate that I would like to arrange, and I am sure that notice has been taken well beyond this House of the extent to which the Liberal Democrats would give up what most of us would regard as important British interests.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week on commercial lobbying organisations ? One has recently been established with the support of a number of ex-Ministers, which claims that it can give access to the Government--access which is denied to ordinary people. Or is the Leader of the House not concerned about the operation of decent standards and the control of commercial lobbying organisations, which seem to be completely out of control--like the 12 Conservative Members who denied the House by not providing information about their Lloyd's interests ?

Mr. Newton : I shall not comment, Madam Speaker--beyond what I already said when referring to your comments--on the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's questions, beyond noting that Members on both sides of the House had not provided an entry at the time that the report was published.

Mr. Cryer I was talking about Lloyd's.

Column 1080

Mr. Newton : Yes, but the hon. Gentleman is very selective in the matters that he raises, is he not ?

On the first part of his question, his comments on whether I was concerned about standards bordered on the offensive, so I shall ignore them. He will know that the Select Committee on Members' Interests is looking further into the matter.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North) : Has my right hon. Friend received any request from the Opposition for a debate on unemployment on one of their Supply days ? It is more than a year since they last did so. If not, have they explained to him why not ? Is it perhaps because of the fall of 200,000 in unemployment and the fact that they are only interested in debating bad news, not good news ?

Mr. Newton : I cannot better my hon. Friend's explanation. The only obvious reason for not having a debate on unemployment is that the Opposition do not want to draw attention to the fact that it is coming down.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside) : When will the Government allow us to debate their decision to end the iron and steel employees readaptation benefits scheme ? Does he know about the anger felt in the steel communities ? Does he not realise that steel workers believe that he has played a very sneaky trick ?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman has referred to that question several times. Equally, I have referred several times to the evaluation report that was put in the Library of the House last October, which underlines the reasons why the Government decided to make that change.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate) : May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the special report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, which is recorded in the Vote today ? The report is concerned about the impediment to the work of the Committee caused by the Opposition preventing the investigation that it wants to undertake in South Africa. In view of that, and the principle which must be enshrined in this House that the work of Select Committees should not be fettered in that way, will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the subject ?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend's question is almost identical to another asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir. D. Smith), who was concerned about attendance at the Western European Union and other international organisations. I am aware of the resolution passed by the Trade and Industry Select Committee, and I hope that it will be considered by those concerned on the Labour Front Bench.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : I welcome the announcement of the business for next week, especially that for Wednesday. However, will it be possible at some time during that week or the week after for the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People or another Minister to make a statement that might allow us to examine the fate and lot of adults affected by thalidomide, who have suffered for years without proper compensation ?

Mr. Newton : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be aware that representatives of the Thalidomide Action Group are meeting my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health on 9 March. I do not think that I want to comment before that meeting has taken place.

Column 1081

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South) : The Leader of the House will be aware that the Treasury Select Committee is carrying out an important study of the civil service. Is he aware that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has refused permission for the Committee to carry out a survey of junior and middle-ranking civil servants, quoting in evidence some civil service management code ?

Does he agree that that civil service management code has no statutory authority, it has never been discussed in the House, and it represents an arbitrary use of power by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster ? Does the Leader of the House agree that this could be a case for judicial review ? Does he propose to defend the rights of the House against

Madam Speaker : Order.

Mr. Garrett : May we have a statement next week

Madam Speaker : Yes, I was just wondering when we would get a request for something, rather than an argument.

Mr. Garrett : Here it comes.

Madam Speaker : Thank you.

Mr. Garrett : Will the Leader of the House make a statement on this important constitutional issue, representing as it does the use of power by a Minister against a Select Committee ? Will he make such a statement next week ?

Mr. Newton : I certainly have no intention of making a statement of the kind sought next week, but I will bring the request to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Next Section

  Home Page