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Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South) : I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. May we press him for a further statement soon on the vexed issue of the Child Support Agency ? He may know that there was a lobby earlier this week which highlighted the continuing serious problems. I realise that it is not long since we had a debate on the matter, but the Leader of the House will recognise that serious debts and concerns are piling up. It would be helpful to have something further soon.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from either the President of the Board of Trade or the Foreign Office, whichever is appropriate ? Is he aware that the Chemical Industries Association has sought an assurance for the past year that Britain will ratify the chemical weapons convention before it comes into force in January ? The association has expressed the real anxiety that, unless we do so, the interests not only of Britain but of the association of the industry will be seriously damaged. We should like an early statement on that.
Finally, may I press the Leader of the House yet again to try to get his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to make a statement about the registration of electors, especially as there are only about three weeks left during which people from other European Community countries can register to vote in the European elections ? We understand that in every other member state a publicity campaign about that is being mounted and only in Britain is there no such campaign. May we have a statement about that soon, please ?
I am not in a position to promise a statement on any of those matters, but I will bring the requests to the attention of my right hon. Friends.
Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West) : May I ask please for a debate on Lloyd's ? [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] My interest in the subject is well known. In 1981, during the passage of the Lloyd's Bill, Lloyd's gave specific undertakings to the House and those undertakings involved the full disclosure and clear accounting of what happened at Lloyd's which would be revealed to the names and the investors at Lloyd's. That has not been done. Further, Lloyd's council
Madam Speaker : Order. Unfortunately, I frequently have to caution the House about statements that are made. We are questioning the business statement for next week. I like it to be done briskly so that other Members can be called.
Mr. Marland : Lord Mackay confirmed in another place that those undertakings had been given by Lloyd's. May I urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that we should have a debate on that matter because allegations are being made outside the House that there is a cover-up, and that the Government and Lloyd's are hand in glove in denying justice to the Lloyd's investors. May I ask my right hon. Friend to try to find time for a debate on that subject ?
Mr. Newton : I know that my hon. Friend would not himself endorse the allegations to which he refers, but equally, I think, everyone on both sides of the House understands his concern about the matter as a whole, and the difficulties for many families, so of course I will consider his suggestion.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) : Is the leader of the House aware that it is now nearly 18 months since we had a debate in the House on substantial issues of importance to the agriculture industry ? In recent weeks we have had important changes of policy on milk marketing, on the condition of the pig sector, on hill farming and on the implications of GATT for British agriculture. In the past few days we have even had an acknowledgment from Europe that there is a new report on the future, the economic viability, of the common agricultural policy. The Minister acknowledges the existence of that report but is not prepared to come to the House and explain its significance. May we have a debate as soon as possible on the state of British agriculture ?
Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North) : On Monday or Tuesday of next week, may we have a debate and a vote to sustain the position that has been adopted hitherto by the Foreign Secretary on the size of the blocking veto in the context of an enlarged Community ; or does my right hon. Friend think that such a gesture is wholly unnecessary ?
Mr. Newton : I cannot hold out the prospect of a debate, but my right hon. Friend has referred to the objectives that have been set out in that negotiation in relation to enlargement and to the protection of significant minorities in the Community. I can assure him that the Government will continue to pursue those objectives with vigour.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Four reports have been produced by the Home Office on electoral matters following investigations into the previous general election, when the names of millions of people were missing from electoral registers. Now that the reports have been published, may we have a debate on that important matter ? Some notice could be taken of my ten-minute rule Bill, which deals with those matters and could be taken on board by the Home Office if it is seeking an avenue to introduce a rolling electoral register.
[ That this House joins with all other parliaments throughout the Commonwealth in the observance of Commonwealth Day on Monday, 14th March ; notes that in 1994 the Commonwealth will once again be in the eyes of the world as the Commonwealth Games are played out in Victoria, British Columbia ; recognises the value of playing in a team and also notes that the United Kingdom Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association contributes to the team of parliamentarians throughout the Commonwealth by holding conferences, seminars and meetings in London and by arranging parliamentary visits to Commonwealth countries. ]
The motion stands in my name and that of many hon. and right hon. colleagues on both sides of the House. It draws attention to Commonwealth day on 14 March--next Monday--and asks whether it is about time that we had a debate on the role of the Commonwealth in the world and this country's role in the Commonwealth. A debate is a long time due and I would very much welcome one.
Mr. Newton : I need hardly say that the entire Government share fully the sentiments that are expressed in the motion to which my hon. Friend has referred. I wish that I could offer a debate next Monday on a subject that sounds rather more interesting than the one that I have announced. However, I am afraid that I cannot change the business immediately.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : May we have next week a debate on official gifts given and received by the Prime Minister ? If it is necessary for the President of the United States to declare all gifts of more than a nominal value, why should not the same rule apply in the United Kingdom ? When public money is being spent, the public are entitled to know what it is being spent on.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) : Will my right hon. Friend again consider a request from me that he find time to debate the issue of seat belts in coaches ? This is a matter of great concern to the parents in my constituency. The House should be given an opportunity to look at the research into whether such seat belts are good or bad for the safety of children. In this case, I am joined by Mr. James Elles, the Member of the European Parliament for the area in which my constituency is located. Mr. Elles too is pressing for an examination of these matters.
Mr. Newton : I am sure that anyone would want to consider with great care any evidence in this field. I shall bring my hon. Friend's request to the attention of my right hon. Friend ; and the Select Committee too may want to take note of it.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Is the Leader of the House aware that yesterday 3,000 disabled people--wheelchairs and all--were crammed into Westminster hall to demand support tomorrow for the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill ? We believe that the Opposition can provide the necessary troops to take the Bill through its Second Reading. What disabled people want is a statement that the Government will provide the necessary parliamentary time to get it through its remaining stages. Will the Leader of the House oblige ?
Mr. Newton : I remind the hon. Gentleman of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, when he indicated that he hoped that the Bill would go to Committee for detailed examination of its provisions. It seems to me that that is the right course for tomorrow.
Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster) : Bearing in mind the continuing terrorist campaign, will the Leader of the House inform hon. Members when time will be found for a debate on the London-Dublin deal, which the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland, as United Kingdom citizens, believe furthers the agenda of republicanism and is detrimental to the interests of the United Kingdom ?
Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will, of course, be well aware of the fact that within the past week there have been three substantial opportunities on the Floor of the House to refer to Northern Ireland matters. My right hon.
Column 415and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be here to answer questions next Thursday, but at the moment I cannot promise anything beyond that.
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South) : The Leader of the House may be aware that constructive receiverships, such as that which took place at Leyland, are threatened by a Court of Appeal ruling in the case of Paramount Airways. Has the President of the Board of Trade given this matter any thought, and will he consider making a Commons statement on the changes in insolvency legislation that are necessary if many thousands of jobs are not to be lost as a result of this court decision ?
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : With regard to the question of the blocking minority, my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) received from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House an answer suggesting that the Foreign Secretary would act with vigour. Does my right hon. Friend accept that many Conservative Members, and perhaps many Opposition Members, regard vigour as including the need to say no on this occasion ?
Mr. Newton : The vigour and determination with which the British Government's negotiating objectives have been pursued are very clear. As I have said, we shall continue to pursue those objectives with vigour.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : Could the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to give us, in a statement next week, his latest thinking on the doctrine of collective responsibility--in particular, in respect of the position of the Minister for open government ? Although statements made by the latter right hon. Gentleman have not yet been repudiated by the rest of the Government, one must assume that they are at variance with the views of the Prime Minister. In addition, there should be a look at the President of the Board of Trade and the Attorney- General, one of whom apparently has no confidence in the legal competence of the other. Surely the Prime Minister needs to clear up this matter and get a grip on his Government.
Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister commented on the first half of that matter in Question Time just now, and I shall not add to what he said. In the past few weeks I have commented, in both capacities, on the second half of the question--and I shall not add to that.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : May I refer my right hon. Friend to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) ? Many people have criticised the lack of publicity that our debates seem to receive these days in quality newspapers. Some people say that the best way to keep a secret is to make a speech in the House of Commons. There is a vital point here. Qualified majority voting is of huge national concern. Some 20,000 directives have been passed into law in the past two or three years. Many of them have been vitally affected by qualified majority
Column 416voting. On Monday and Tuesday, the House is to discuss estimates and local government in Wales. Those may be important subjects, but
Mr. Leigh : If there is a matter of such vital concern--we are presently arguing about it in Brussels and a final decision is to be made on Tuesday--should we not react to that and give the House an opportunity to debate the matter so that we can back up the vigorous defence which the Government are putting up in Brussels at the moment ?
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : Will the Leader of the House find time next week to provide an opportunity for either a statement or a debate on the Government's submission on structural plans for the multi-annual guidance programme of the European Union, given its importance to the fishing and boat-building industries in many parts of the United Kingdom and the deadline that has been set for 31 March ? Surely we should have an opportunity to know what is being said in our names.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : Even if the expansion of the Community is delayed, it could still go ahead. If we concede on the blocking minority, that will be it and the powers of this House will be significantly reduced. Will my right hon. Friend go a stage further and commit the Government to not making such a change without first allowing a significant, long and serious debate in the House ?
Mr. Newton : Like a number of my hon. and right hon. Friends, my hon. Friend has made clear his support for the Government's position. I have now responded four times, and I cannot add to what I said on the previous three occasions.
Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland that he will abandon proposals for a new law on criminal trespass to restrict people's right of access to the countryside, especially now that strong objections to the proposals have been lodged by Scottish National Heritage, the Law Society of Scotland, the Ramblers Association and the Mountaineering Council for Scotland ? Is it too much to expect the Leader of the House to stand up for the rights of the common people against those of the lairds and landed gentry ?
Mr. Newton : No, it is not ; but it is too much to expect the Leader of the House to speak from this Dispatch Box as though he were the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am sure that the Secretary of State will consider all and any representations made to him.
Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East) : May we have an early debate on unemployment ? Is it not strange that we have not had one on an Opposition day for more than a year ? Does my right hon. Friend think that that is because unemployment has fallen over the past year by 200,000 ?
Mr. Newton : Yes, of course it is because unemployment has been falling over the past year, and the Opposition never like to touch on anything that might be regarded as good news. They have not yet announced the subject for their Opposition day on Monday 21 March. I look forward to their picking up my hon. Friend's suggestion.
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : When might the Leader of the House be in a position to make a further statement on the additional voluntary contributions scheme, which he knows is of interest to hon. Members on both sides of the House ?
Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman, who has followed the subject closely, will know of the efforts that I have made. I have recently been inquiring when the final details will be in place because I, too, should like to see that happen as soon as possible.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset) : I know that this may seem like an echo, but why is there not to be a debate in the coming week on the implementation of the Jopling report ? Will my right hon. Friend perhaps have a word with the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) about perhaps debating it on one of the Opposition days, seeing that so many Labour Members want reform as well ?
Mr. Newton : There is another suggestion for the right hon. Lady, who, I see, is sitting patiently and listening carefully on the Opposition Front Bench. As for the objectives of the Jopling report, I would say that we have not done too badly in the past couple of weeks.
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : Did the Leader of the House notice yesterday that the Financial Secretary launched, outside the House, a consultative document on venture capital as a successor to the business expansion scheme ? Will he arrange for the Financial Secretary to come here next week and explain why the business expansion scheme was such a failure, particularly since his PPS was the boss of a venture which went down to the tune of millions of pounds, costing the Earl of Bradford £1.2 million and the country £200,000 of taxpayers' money ?
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye) : Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, during next week's debate on local government, there will be time for us to raise the subject of the increasing council tax that we see emerging from both Labour and Liberal shire counties, particularly in East Sussex, where the Liberal Democrats have increased council tax by 11 per cent. ?
Mr. Newton : It seems very much in line with what is happening elsewhere, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Question Time. The figures so far for the billing authorities, taken together, in England are, for band C and two adults, £430, Conservative ; £559, Labour ; and £503, Liberals. From what my hon. Friend has said, the Liberals are running hard to catch up with Labour.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : May I endorse the demand by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland) for a debate on Lloyd's ? We could then see how, in 1981, all the Conservative Members voted to give massive legal immunities to the council of Lloyd's, and we
Column 418could compare it with their views on trade unions. At the same time we could list the nine hon. Members who are defying the wish of the House in failing to provide information on the number of syndicates, on which the House passed a resolution requiring them so to do. I hope that we are given an opportunity to debate the subject, because this defiance is serious.
Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman has good cause to know what the Select Committee has said in its report on the matter, and I know that it is being carefully considered by all the hon. Members to whom he refers.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) : Will my right hon. Friend allow time for a debate on the guidelines set by the Department of the Environment for allowing travellers' sites on green belt land ? In the village of Failand in my constituency, this is causing a great deal of disappointment and anger, and although it is primarily the work of Labour and the Liberals on Avon county council, I am sure that many hon. Members have the same problem and would like a debate on the subject as quickly as possible.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : May we have a debate soon on the claim made in today's New Scientist that 10,000 British people a year are dying from a previously unidentified cause--minute particles emitted by car exhausts ? Are we not all concerned about car pollution which has caused a great increase in the number of children suffering from asthma ? Is it not crucial that we address the problem rather than increasingly giving in to the car lobby and trying to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the car for our urban space ?
Mr. Newton : Given the efforts of the Government to encourage the use of lead-free petrol and some of the announcements made about policy on the tax of road fuel, that is an unjustified question. I am sure that the scientific report, which I have not myself seen, will be carefully studied in the Departments of both Health and Transport.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : May I support my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) in asking for a debate on council tax because, in the course of it, we can highlight the fact that the Lib- Lab-controlled county council of Kent is hard on the heels of Liberal- controlled East Sussex with an increase of 7 per cent. ? Gravesham council- -now Labour--not to be outdone, has gone from having the lowest council tax in Kent to fifth from the bottom.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood) : Now that the Public Accounts Committee has said that the standards of conduct in Government are at their lowest point for 140 years, the Cabinet Secretary has said that it is possible to tell Parliament half-truths and a Cabinet Minister has said that it is possible not to tell the truth at all, is there not a crisis of confidence in the conduct of Government ? Is it not urgent that the Government should allow time for the House to discuss it ?
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : Bearing in mind that on 1 January 1996 the United Kingdom will lose its veto over the European Union's visa list, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be appropriate to have a debate as soon as possible, not only on Britain's right to exercise its veto, but also on the extension of the European Union and the implications of that for other members who wish to exercise a veto ?
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the effect of gagging clauses and employer pressure on the ability of people at work to participate properly in the democratic process ? I have been made aware by my constituents of the fact that some of those who work for British Rail Maintenance Ltd. in Eastleigh and for British Gas at the Botley depot in Eastleigh, who are facing redundancy, are unable to speak freely about their fears for their jobs and their futures because of those gagging clauses and that pressure. Should not the House send a clear message that anybody in Britain should be able to speak freely about the problems they face at work without fear of undue pressure from their employers ?
Mr. Newton : I am sure that my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State concerned with those industries will have noted the hon. Gentleman's words. I shall ask for them to be drawn to the attention of the chairmen of the bodies concerned.
Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North) : In the light of the Employment Select Committee report today, which concludes that labour market flexibility is vital to maintaining high employment levels, and as the Opposition will not use a Supply day to discuss the subject, would it be possible to have a debate on unemployment and flexibility in the labour market, particularly as the G7 jobs summit is to take place in Detroit next week ? It would give the Government and Conservative Members the opportunity to say, first, that labour market flexibility is vital, and, secondly, that deregulation, not protectionism, is the way forward.
Mr. Newton : It occurs to me that one reason, in addition to that already suggested by one of my hon. Friends, for Labour's reluctance to initiate a debate on unemployment is that precisely that point might be made and the weakness of their position would be exposed. I have sitting next to me my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who will shortly be departing for the G7 summit and will pay careful attention to what my hon. Friend has said.
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) : Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on reform of the regulatory system for the privatised utilities ? Will he bear in mind my early-day motion 764 ? [ That this House notes Calor Gas has appointed the former Director-General of OFGAS, Sir James McKinnon
Column 420to act as its adviser for an undisclosed sum as part of its push to enter the United Kingdom domestic and natural gas market which he in his former role aggressively deregulated to promote new market entrants (such as Calor) ; further notes that Dutch-owned Calor Gas is in partnership with Norwegian-dominated Alliance and considers Mr. McKinnon's decision to sell his unique knowledge to these companies not only a grossly unpatriotic act but a shameless example of a Tory government appointee serving his time before shoving his own nose into the free market trough ; recognises this disgraceful episode as symptomatic of the need to regulate the regulators by instructing them not to pursue competition as blind dogma but to act in the national interest ; and calls on the President of the Board of Trade to overhaul the regulatory regime of the privatised utilities ensuring, inter alia, that as a condition of their appointment directors general are prevented from taking up subsequent appointments with private companies in the same industry sector. ] It condemns the fact that Sir James McKinnon, director-general of Ofgas, has now taken a job as a paid adviser to Calor Gas, a new entrant to the natural gas market, which he sought to break up and deregulate to encourage extra competition from companies such as Calor Gas. Now he is benefiting from that. Surely the employment contracts of directors-general of the regulatory agencies should prohibit such appointments.
Mr. Newton : I understand that Sir James McKinnon retired from Ofgas some two months before the decision was taken on the MMC inquiry. He is, of course, bound by the Gas Act 1985 not to take advantage of commercial knowledge gained during his period of appointment.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) : Is my right Friend aware that this month marks the centenary of Gladstone's resignation ? Will he find time before the end of the month to debate the great ideals of Gladstonian liberalism--individual liberty, free trade, sound finance and parliamentary sovereignty--and at the same time debate why the modern Liberal Democrats have abandoned every one of those ideals, not least Gladstone's wish always to take a penny off income tax rather than, as they would do, put a penny on it all the time ?
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : The Leader of the House will remember his response to me last week when I asked for a statement on thalidomide victims. Is there a possibility of a statement being made within the next week following the meeting of representatives of those victims with the Under-Secretary of State yesterday ?
Mr. Newton : I do not think that I can promise a debate next week, but I can record my pleasure--I imagine that it will be shared by the hon. Gentleman--that, in the light of the meeting, the members of the group who were on hunger strike have decided to end their protest. I am sure that careful consideration will continue to be given to the points that they made.
Column 421violent crime. Will he provide an early opportunity to debate the subject as, prima facie, the tariff system would seem to be wholly inadequate to replace common law and statutory principles ?
Mr. Newton : We have, of course, had Home Office questions today. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend had an opportunity to make that point to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, but if he did not, I will ensure that he is made aware that it has been raised now.
Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor) : Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on early-day motion 634, which calls attention to the actions of 53 Opposition Members in voting against the increases in pensions ?
[ That this House notes that 53 honourable and Right honourable Labour Members voted against the Orders to uprate pensions and social security benefits and to introduce the package of extra help with VAT on fuel ; and recognises that if they had been successful, millions of pensioners and less well-off people would have been deprived of the support voted through by Conservative honourable Members. ] A debate would give Conservative Members the opportunity of pointing out to our pensioner constituents the effect on their incomes if their action had been successful.
Mr. Newton : I should be pleased to arrange time for a debate, but my hon. Friend's question is a further useful opportunity to draw attention to that astonishing occasion when the Labour party voted against the pensioner.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire) : Will my right hon. Friend consider allowing time for a debate on the new working practices in the House ? Is he aware that many hon. Members feel that, since the usual channels have broken down, and despite the fact that pairing arrangements have broken down--I wish to declare that I do not have a pair, and so do not speak from interest--we are enjoying hours of business that are more predictable and business is transacted, in my belief, more efficiently ?
Mr. Newton : I am not quite sure whether that will help or hinder the continuation of such arrangements, but in respect of part of my hon. Friend's question, I am sure that he has the sympathy of the whole House.
Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) : Can my right hon. Friend think of a way of providing an early opportunity for the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) to come to the House and explain why, within minutes of the IRA mortar attack on the northern runway at Heathrow, he and 240 of his hon. Friends were in the Lobbies voting against a measure that would help the police to find the culprits ?
Mr. Newton : If I thought that there was the slightest chance of the hon. Member for Sedgefield either being willing to explain or, indeed, being able to explain such a vote, I would very happily arrange an occasion for him to do so.
Madam Speaker : I have a short statement to make about arrangements for the debate on the motion for the Adjournment which will follow the passing of the Consolidated Fund Bill on Thursday 17 March. Hon. Members should submit their subjects to my office not later than 10 pm on Tuesday 15 March. A list showing the subjects and times will be published the following day. Usually the time allotted will not exceed one and a half hours, but I propose to exercise a discretion to allow one or two debates to continue for rather longer, up to a maximum of three hours.
Where identical or similar subjects have been entered by different Members whose names are drawn in the ballot, only the first name will be shown on the list. As some debates might not last the full time allotted to them, it is the responsibility of Members to keep in touch with developments if they are not to miss their turn in debate.