Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your help in respect of a letter from the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd). It apparently goes to Conservatives, although it is addressed "Dear Colleague", and it deals with the Conservative party and the European People's party, so it is rather long and embarrassing. I will just read the last paragraph : "Over the next four months, the responsibility for us all is to campaign for a Conservative victory in June's election. A centre-right majority in the European Parliament will strengthen our hand in building the free-market, deregulated and decentralised Europe to which all Conservatives are committed."
It is signed "Douglas"--or it could be "Dougie". The important point of the letter is that it has been written under the Foreign and Commonwealth Office letterhead and is addressed from the Secretary of State.
The help that I seek is to know whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has moved to Smith square or whether the Secretary of State does not know his departmental elbow from his party's arriere-pensee. Will you ask him to come to the House to explain the Foreign Office's new policy of supporting the Conservative party in the forthcoming elections ?
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman's point of order is not a matter for the Chair, largely because no House of Commons writing paper is involved. I assume that the Government have their own rules covering these situations. The accounting officer at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may be interested in the circular. It does not, however, raise a point of order for me, and I cannot help the hon. Gentleman further on it.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you confirm that if an hon. Member's question is being dealt with on the Floor of the House the hon. Member should stay at least until the exchanges have ended ? As the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) did not do the House the courtesy of waiting until the exchanges had finished, can you tell us why he hurried away ? Was he being sought by the district auditor who is looking into the affairs of Westminster council.
Madam Speaker : Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of the hon. Gentleman leaving before answers to his question had been completed. I consider it a great discourtesy to the House and to me as Speaker in calling the Member, and I hope that all Members will note that in future, when their questions are being debated on the Floor of the House, they should remain in the Chamber until their questions have finished.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) : I unreservedly apologise, Madam Speaker, for leaving as I did. I did not realise that question 7 was still being discussed. I apologise fully for leaving as early as I did.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand that in another place yesterday Earl Ferrers, the Minister of State, Home Office, announced that it was the Government's intention to introduce and railroad through a one-clause Bill rectifying their error on the Railways Act 1993 in order to restore the
Column 882right of arrest to the British Transport police. First, is it correct that the other place should be told on a different day from the House of Commons of the intention to introduce emergency legislation ? Secondly, will a Minister make a statement about this legislation to rectify the Government's botch-up ?
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you, as the ultimate authority on the good running of the House, have received any report about this morning's proceedings in Standing Committee A with regard to scrutiny of a document. The Select Committee on European Legislation referred the document to the Standing Committee 16 months ago, but it arrived only today
Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman, as a long-standing Member of the House, understands our proceedings. This Chamber cannot concern itself with developments in a Committee until the Committee's Chairman has reported to the House on any irregularities that may have occurred. I should hope that, in the case of any irregularities, the Chairman would report to me so that they could be dealt with in the normal way.
Mr. Harris rose--
Madam Speaker : If this is a point of order with which I can deal, I must, of course, hear it. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind what I have just said and will not raise matters occurring in a Committee upstairs, which should have an opportunity to report to the House.
Mr. Harris : I accept what you say, Madam Speaker, and I appreciate the point. That is why I asked the Chairman of your Panel to refer the matter. It is absolutely disgraceful that it has taken 16 months for such an issue to be referred to the relevant Committee. I hope that the Panel Chairman will pursue the issue at the request of the Committee.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) rose
Mrs. Dunwoody : It relates to the same point of order, Madam Speaker. The difficulty for the House of Commons is that ours is a scrutiny Committee and this is an auditor's report. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the situation, we ask for the protection of the Chair. If the House of Commons makes arrangements for Committee scrutiny of European legislation, and if that legislation is not referred in good order and in good time, the House of Commons fails to perform its proper task. That is the point that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and the rest of us wish to bring very forcefully to your attention.
Column 883communication about the need for a statement on the citizens charter ? As you may know, the second report under the charter is being published this afternoon. On every previous occasion, a statement has been made to the House. Indeed, the Minister concerned spoke on the radio this morning about the charter programme. We have been told that the charter is the centrepiece, the flagship, of the Government's programme. Does the absence of a statement indicate that the flagship is being allowed to sink ?
Madam Speaker : I have not been informed that a Minister is seeking to make a statement. Of course, the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity later in the week to seek further information from the Government.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, who is present today, will recall that on Friday the Civil Rights (Disabled People) Bill was given a Second Reading, with more than 200 Members voting in favour of it, and none against. The Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) introduced, which also went through unopposed, has now been saddled with countless amendments, many of them tabled by the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry). Will you, Madam Speaker, allow the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People to tell us whether he will permit a practice designed to obstruct the Bill, and will he give us a guarantee of extra parliamentary time to enable the legislation to go through all its stages ?
Mr. Hendry : Is it in order for an hon. Member to criticise another hon. Member for tabling amendments to legislation that will affect every consumer in the country ? It seems that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would allow two and a half hours for debate or seek to have the legislation put through on the nod. Is it in order for him, without giving warning, to try to deprive other Members of an opportunity to debate such an important matter in detail ?
Madam Speaker : I said originally that the hon. Gentleman did not have a point of order for me. I think that it is a matter of personalities. Hon. Members might try to have their exchanges elsewhere, not in the Chamber.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Prescribed Diseases) Regulations to reduce to ten years the aggregate period of underground work required to qualify for benefits in cases of chronic bronchitis and emphysema ; to amend the rules relating to medical assessment of percentage levels of disablement in people suffering from these conditions ; and for connected purposes.
I should like to declare an interest. I am sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers.
My Bill would change in four main ways the prescription test that was introduced in the Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Prescribed Diseases) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 1993. First, it would reduce the qualifying period from 20 years to 10 years. Secondly, it would reduce the disablement threshold from 14 per cent. to multiples of 10 per cent. Thirdly, it would specify that soft exposure X-rays should be used for diagnosing dust retention. Finally, it would replace the FEV1 test with a thorough and sensitive medical examination.
I want to consider the background to the original regulations and to explain the rationale on which my amendments are based. The original regulations were based on the recommendations of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. After more than 20 years, the council has finally accepted that there is a causal connection between the exposure to coal dust and the development of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. As a result, it has recognised that the disease should be prescribed in relation to deep coal mining and recommended the application of a prescription test. That test has already proved to be too harsh.
The failure rate in South Yorkshire, according to the Department of Social Security office in Doncaster, is estimated to be 90 per cent. of applicants. I am advised that the overall failure rate nationally is the same. That means that, of the 23,477 applications received in the first wave, about 21,000 will be turned down. That cannot be what the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council intended.
Let me give the House an example of the sort of case that is being rejected. Last Saturday week, I received a telephone call from Mr. G. Scott, a former miner. He told me that he is so enfeebled by breathlessness that he has to use a nebuliser to assist his breathing. He has been treated for chronic bronchitis and emphysema for years, but when he was recently subjected to the prescription test he was told by the examining authorities that he did not have a sufficient degree of the disease for a disablement assessment. Mr. Scott is not unique. I have received letters from former miners who are similarly disabled and have had the same experience at the hands of the medical authorities.
I shall explain the rationale that underpins the amendments in my Bill. Pneumoconiosis, chronic bronchitis and emphysema have the same causation : coal dust in the lungs. It is an established fact that pneumoconiosis, which is defined as fibrosis of the lungs, is a more complicated stage than dust retention and can be contracted by an exposure of 10 years or less. That fact is recognised in the regulations on pneumoconiosis that
Column 886specify a qualifying period of 10 years. It is, therefore, illogical that the less complicated stage of dust retention should require a longer exposure period.
The second and related difficulty that my Bill seeks to amend involves the level of disablement threshold. Under the original regulation, that level is 14 per cent., but my Bill proposes to reduce it to multiples of 10 per cent. For my reasoning, I again turn to the example of the pneumoconiosis regulations. In cases where that disease is accompanied by chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and where the examining authorities consider that the former disease worsens the latter, additional assessments are given in multiples of 10 per cent. It is, therefore, unreasonable to move away from the already established principle of assessing chest diseases, particularly chronic bronchitis and emphysema in relation to coal miners, in multiples of 10. On those two matters, one cannot avoid the conclusion that the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council saw itself as the controller of the Government's purse.
I have referred to the case of Mr. Scott. Let me now give the House two hypothetical, but extremely realistic, examples of miners who were suffering from the disease but could be ruled out of benefit because they did not meet one or other of the criteria. Two miners who work together underground for 17 or 18 years both leave underground work together. One continues working in the colliery on the surface in dusty conditions, and the other takes a job as a school caretaker. When they reach retirement age, both have respiratory conditions and both apply to the pneumoconiosis medical board.
The former miner who left the pit is found to have pneumoconiosis with attendant chronic bronchitis and emphysema. He would receive 10 per cent. for the pneumoconiosis, plus 10 per cent. because the pneumoconiosis worsens the chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and would finish with an assessment of 20 per cent. The miner who had spent all his life at the colliery is examined and is found to have dust retention with very acute chronic bronchitis and emphysema. However, as he is not a pneumoconiotic, he cannot be afforded an assessment under that regulation. He is referred to the chronic bronchitis and emphysema regulation, but immediately is ruled out of benefit because he does not meet the 20-year criterion. Again, I contend that that cannot be a fair procedure.
My second example relates to redundant miners. Tens of thousands of former miners have now been made redundant and have not been able to work for 20 years underground. Sadly, but inevitably, some of those young men will develop chronic bronchitis and emphysema due to coal dust retention in the lungs. However, under the qualifying period of 20 years, they will be ruled out of benefit.
In preparing the Bill, I sought medical advice from an eminent chest physician who sits on the regional medical appeal tribunal, and that advice was of particular value for the third and fourth amendments of my Bill. Diagnosing dust retention in the lungs from X-rays is an extremely precise art. I am advised that it is made difficult because the normal type of hospital X-ray may not show the condition. A surer way of making an accurate diagnosis--it is called for in my Bill--is to use specific soft exposure X-rays.
Finally, my Bill calls for the replacement of the FEV1 test by a more sensitive medical examination. I am advised that, medically, although the test measures the overall lung function, it is possible for a man to be more breathless due
Column 887to coal dust induced chronic bronchitis and emphysema and, because of that, to suffer greater disability than a man who has a one litre reduction in the lung function test. Clearly there needs to be an examination to eliminate other causes of breathlessness, and there needs to be a more sensitive examination under the pneumoconiosis regulations. The disease is diagnosed from X-ray evidence and medical examination.
Even when it is accompanied by chronic bronchitis and emphysema, the degree of disability is determined by a medical examination. The amendments in my proposed Bill would make the prescription test for diagnosing chronic bronchitis and emphysema in coal miners and former coal miners a fairer and more just procedure. I urge the House to accept the motion.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Michael Clapham, Mr. Eric Clarke, Mr. Eric Illsley, Mr. Mike O'Brien, Mr. Terry Patchett, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Kevin Hughes, Mr. Ted Rowlands, Mr. Alan Meale and Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe.
Mr. Michael Clapham accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Prescribed Diseases) Regulations to reduce to ten years the aggregate period of underground work required to qualify for benefits in cases of chronic bronchitis and emphysema ; to amend the rules relating to medical assessment of percentage levels of disablement in people suffering from these conditions ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 15 April, and to be printed. [Bill No.75.]
That provision may be made for balancing charges under Part I of the Capital Allowances Act 1990 where any of the value of the relevant interest in any building or structure is realised otherwise than on a sale.--[ Mr. Dorrell .]
That provision (including provision having retrospective effect) may be made relating to the Income Tax (Employments) Regulations 1993 and the Income Tax (Employments) Regulations 1973.
That provision may be made amending Schedule 7A to the Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992.
Mr. Beith : Some words of explanation on the third resolution from the Financial Secretary would be helpful in view of the extent of argument that we have had about the treatment of indexation losses in Committee. We are dealing with the ways and means motion after we have dealt with some aspects of the matter in the Standing Committee that is considering the Finance Bill.
The House is entitled to know whether the resolution is designed to enable some refinement of the provisions for indexation losses that members of the Committee do not yet know about, or to do something else. The point that I have sought to put to Ministers is that to remove what have become known as the Lawson reforms on indexation losses is a strange move for the Government to make. The abuses that have led the Government to believe it necessary to abandon what they regarded as important and long-lasting changes in tax law could be dealt with by more specific means.
On the face of it, the ways and means resolution appears to open the way to more specific means of tackling abuses by companies that use subsidiaries as devices to create losses that can be set against gains and, thereby, avoid taxation. That type of abuse could usefully be dealt with, rather than abuses by individuals who, under the changes that the Government propose, will no longer be able to set tax losses in one security against tax gains in another. Of course, if people have their funds in unit trusts, the problem will not arise because the net gains will be considered. However, if people have a small portfolio of shares, they will face a problem.
The resolutions appear to provide an opening to deal with the problem in a better way than the Government are doing. That made me especially intrigued to know what they were up to.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Dorrell) : The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) should be congratulated on his ingenuity in raising again on the Floor of the House a subject that we debated last night in the Standing Committee that is considering the Finance Bill. The resolution and the new clause for which it is a paving measure is not intended to deal with the subject of loss
Column 889indexation allowance per se. Loss indexation is to do with the quantum of loss relief that is available to a particular taxpayer. The two defects that will be dealt with as a result of the ways and means resolution are connected with the transferability of losses between companies within a group. Therefore, they deal with a different issue from that which the right hon. Gentleman is worried about. The issue that he raised was dealt with in last year's Finance Bill,-- capital loss buying and the abuse, which is perceived as an abuse by hon. Members on both sides of the House, which derives from companies buying capital losses and setting them off against capital gains elsewhere in the group.
We introduced last year anti-avoidance measures to deal with that problem. The measures that will be built on the ways and means resolution which we ask the House to approve now will deal with that aspect of the problem. So the resolutions are directed at the transferability of capital losses rather than the quantum of capital losses.
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East) : The official Opposition would have been happy to take the three ways and means resolutions formally, but a few words of explanation are called for following the remarks of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).
The three resolutions that facilitate the blocking of three separate potential avoidance devices do not relate to the matter that the right hon. Gentleman raised. I have every sympathy with him in the matter of substance to which he referred. He was right to say that we had a long and not particularly fruitful discussion of the matter yesterday in Committee.
The three resolutions with which we are dealing all aim to facilitate anti- avoidance legislation. They have the support of the parliamentary Opposition in that. In particular, the second resolution has our support because it is a measure which I called for in the Committee which considered the previous Finance Bill. The Financial Secretary assured us that it was not necessary.
Question put and agreed to.
That provision may be made for balancing charges under Part I of the Capital Allowances Act 1990 where any of the value of the relevant interest in any building or structure is realised otherwise than on a sale.
That provision (including provision having retrospective effect) may be made relating to the Income Tax (Employments) Regulations 1993 and the Income Tax (Employments) Regulations 1973.
That provision may be made amending Schedule 7A to the Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992.--[ Mr. Dorrell .]
That the draft Grants to the Redundant Churches Fund Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 11th February, be approved. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage is empowered by section 1(1) and (2) of the Redundant Churches and other Religious Buildings Act 1969-- as successor, for this purpose, to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, named in the section--to make by order, with the approval of the Treasury, grants to the redundant churches fund up to a specified maximum, over a specified period.
The redundant churches fund was originally set up in 1969, and the statutory provisions relating to it are currently embodied in the Pastoral Measure 1983. The fund has as its object
"the preservation, in the interests of the nation, and the Church of England, of churches, and parts of churches, of historic and archaeological interest, or architectural quality, vested in the Fund by Part III of the 1983 Measure, together with their contents so vested."
Its chairman and members are appointed by Her Majesty after advice has been submitted to her by the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York, through the Prime Minister.
The fund is now celebrating its quarter century and currently holds 290 churches, ranging from 18th century inner-city churches such as Holy Trinity, Sunderland and St. James, Toxteth, to rural ones, such as the 12th century St. Pendock near Tewkesbury and the 14th century St. James, Luffincott in Devon. What they have in common is that they are all of outstanding quality--a matter on which the Church Commissioners, who decide on vesting, have the expert advice of the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, which is also provided for in the 1983 Measure. Together, they form a most impressive portfolio and, along with churches still in pastoral use, a lasting witness to the strength of our ecclesiastical heritage.
The draft order provides for grants to the fund in the period from 1 April 1994 to 31 March 1997 ; that is, in the next three financial years. The five previous orders each covered a five-year period ; the present order is the first to cover only three years. That change implements one of the recommendations in the 1990 Wilding report on the care of redundant churches. Five-year periods were, as Mr. Wilding saw, originally helpful in establishing an assured future for the fund for five years ahead on each occasion, but the fund is now sufficiently well established for that assurance to be unnecessary and there are several reasons for preferring a shorter three-year period.
In particular, the long lead time needed for preparing a quinquennial budget and obtaining approval means that figures have had to be worked out and presented for discussion up to two years before the beginning of the quinquennium. Those figures are now in cash terms and the process therefore involves trying to take a view, of the rate of redundancy, the rate of vesting and above all the rate of inflation for the next seven years. In our view a three-year period provides a much greater encouragement to realistic forward planning and fits the general public expenditure framework. For the period 1994-97, the draft order provides for grants to the fund up to a maximum of £7.2 million. That