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Column 1065is a tragedy for thousands of children. To a great extent, I blame the stupidity of Justice Wilson, who rejected a bid by Sutton borough council to outlaw smacking even with parental permission. It is an interesting dichotomy--who decides and what degree
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Order. The hon. Gentleman really should not criticise a member of the judiciary--he can do so only on a substantive motion. Will he please bear that in mind ?
An important group--the Physical Punishment of Children pressure group-- claimed that the decision to permit smacking went against Government policy, undertakings made by the Government and the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. Will the Leader of the House and his Cabinet colleagues look into the matter ?
Let us imagine the serious consequences of the decision for social services departments. I was an assistant director of social services for Durham county council and I am well aware of the organisational and cash implications of such a decision. I make it clear that child minders and other carers should not, in any circumstances, smack, slap or shake children. We should not abuse our children in any way. I have managed to bring up two children--both of whom are now more than 30 years old--without finding it necessary to smack, slap or shake them.
Sutton council refused to register Mrs. Davis as an official child minder because she refused to sign an undertaking not to use corporal punishment, which tells us a great deal. Recently there have been a number of tragedies involving children : three children died in Peterlee and there was the famous case of Maria Calwell.
I deal now with schoolteachers. It is crazy that an unqualified child minder is able to smack a child but a qualified schoolteacher in county Durham, for example--my education authority--could and would be dismissed if he or she smacked a child. I believe that that is right and that the other course of action is wrong.
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East) : My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), given his experience before coming to the House, speaks with great authority on the topic of child abuse. He is also correct to draw our attention to the anomalies which the recent judgment creates. I am sure that the House will have to return to this matter.
If, in their drive to amalgamate Departments, the Government decide to amalgamate the Department of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Department of Transport, the Leader of the House will be able to pass the job of replying to debates of this sort to the new joint Secretary of State, because almost all the matters that have been raised in our three- hour debate relate either to foreign affairs or to transport.
The right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) was joined by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) in praising the Foreign Secretary for the leadership qualities that he is displaying, especially when standing up to the shortcomings of the European Union. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to list
Column 1066his criticisms of the European Union and to offer helpful advice to the parliamentary Labour party on how we should be probing European institutions. It is a debating device of long standing that those who wish to criticise the stance of their own party challenge the opposing party for not making the same criticisms effectively enough. The right hon. Gentleman gave the game away a little when he felt it necessary to make special mention of a point on which he agreed with the Prime Minister.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), not only rightly but movingly, drew the House's attention to the plight of people in receipt of war pensions and war widows' pensions who will be affected by the Government's proposed changes. I hope that the Leader of the House, who is very knowledgeable on the subject, will be able to say something to set at rest the minds of those who are currently in receipt of such pensions, particularly those who were unfortunately tortured in captivity during the second world war. Those who managed to survive the cruel circumstances of far eastern prison camps, in particular, and who are now of pensionable age deserve to be at the forefront of the House's consideration. My right hon. Friend was quite right to refer to their plight, and I hope that the Leader of the House will say something to meet his concern.
My right hon. Friend also raised the question of our having a Minister in the Ministry of Defence to deal specifically with veterans' affairs and to co-ordinate the work of various Departments. This matter has been dealt with on previous occasions and is certainly worthy of consideration.
The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) called for help for the elderly. He outlined some of the problems that such people face and some of the things that the Government are doing to help. The assistance that pensioners are being given to enable them to carry the extra burden represented by VAT on fuel bills, while welcome as far as it goes, is not adequate compensation. The average pensioner household will still be £1 a week short. That may not sound like a lot of money, but it is a great deal for pensioners on small and relatively fixed incomes.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies had a look at the changes in the distribution of the tax burden for the period 1985-95 and found that the very wealthiest were better off but that everybody else was paying more, largely as a result of the shift from direct taxation to indirect taxation. Those with family responsibilities and the very poor were particularly hard hit. The poorest decile and the second poorest, into which most pensioners fall, were also hit particularly hard.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) drew
attention--slightly implausibly, I thought--to the Government's record on crime. He failed to make any proper analysis of the growth of crime or to offer any genuine means of dealing with it, apart from his call for more police on the beat. Many of us think that the rather woolly liberalism that the hon. Gentleman seems to represent has contributed to the problem rather than provided a solution to it. [Interruption.] Well, that is my view.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) struck a seasonal note as we move towards the holiday period. He raised the important question of coach safety and seat belts. If it is true that 12 per cent. of deaths resulting from coach accidents could be prevented through the use of seat belts, such devices will have to be fitted, and funds will have to be provided for the purpose.
Column 1067Time does not allow me to deal adequately with all the matters raised crisply--as always on these occasions--by the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr.Amess). The hon. Gentleman, as he often does, denounced Essex county council for being a rotten socialist body, citing in evidence of socialist repression the removal of the lollipop lady. That does not seem to me such a dreadful act of socialist tyranny. Certainly foreign countries have provided more ferocious examples in the past. Characteristically, the hon. Gentleman offered to do the job himself. Given the fact that his seat is a marginal one, although he has held on to it so far, and given the Government's current lack of popularity, I understand why he should be looking around. I wish him well in his future career, for which he is adequately qualified. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) restated his case on events in Northern Ireland. I do not feel qualified to make a full and comprehensive response. However, I can say that we all listened with respect and understanding.
That is more than I can say for the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates), who drew a parallel between the revolting apartheid regime in South Africa and the refusal of some schools in Cleveland to play football with a team from a city technology college. I hope that hon. Members will understand when I say that the two issues are not the same--not in proportion, and not even in theme. After all, city technology colleges were intended to be divisive, and the hon. Gentleman should not be surprised if those who attend other academic institutions are resentful. That is clearly what is happening in Cleveland.
Drawing a parallel between apartheid and the question whether schools play football with each other is a wrongful statement of the case, but it is also particularly rich when it comes from Langbaurgh. Like the hon. Gentleman, I remember the Langbaurgh by-election. I went down to help my friend Ashok Kumar, who won the by-election but, unfortunately, did not retain the seat at the general election. Those of us who took part in that by-election know that racism did raise its ugly head and that certain people encouraged it. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman invites me to join him in condemnation. I am happy to do so. I condemn racism, I condemn those who incite it, and I condemn those who benefit from it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) presented an impressive defence of the Commonwealth Institute. He was right to ask whether the Government have thought this issue through. Closure of the institute--this is what the Government seem to be moving towards--could cost rather than save public money. It seems to me that that would be a ridiculous state of affairs.
The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) added to the speech that he made in the debate when we last discussed an Adjournment motion by telling us of a concession that he had received from the Department of Transport.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) returned to the question of foreign affairs with a very powerful speech in defence of human rights in the Punjab. He was quite right to put his speech in the context of our relationship with India, with which we have historic connections and very friendly ties and commercial arrangements. He cited the Amnesty International report and condemned the disappearance of militants. It was very interesting to hear him make that point. However, he
Column 1068balanced his comments with references to the Indian judiciary and press and to the role that they can play in restoring government of a type that we should like to see--democratic rather than authoritarian.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) spoke for all of us who have to travel to this building when he referred to the frustration involved in getting through the traffic in London. Who is in charge ? Who plans the various works ? It is clear that the lack of an overall authority is disrupting the city. I know that the Lord President thinks himself fortunate that my hon. Friend defends Ministers when, travelling in cabs, he explains these matters to enraged taxi drivers. I am sure that he is a powerful advocate. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), having read the document "Roads to Prosperity", hoped that it would not apply to his own constituency. He called for peace of mind for the next general election. I expect that the Lord President will be able to give him some assurance.
I should like the Lord President to provide me with some peace of mind in respect of the Swan Hunter shipyard in my constituency. It is in dire circumstances. It is in the hands of receivers and could close, with the loss of all jobs. Some 2,000 direct employees and 2, 000 people indirectly employed have already gone. There are only 600 manual workers left, but it is possible that at least their jobs can be saved if the Ministry of Defence commits a medium-sized order now. There is such an order in prospect, and it would certainly be the most welcome news for Tyneside if an announcement were to be made before we adjourned for the Easter recess.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I was put in mind, during the speech of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie-- [Interruption.] I am sorry if I am mispronouncing part of the name of the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I shall avoid referring to it and stick simply to "Clydebank".
The reference to the Commonwealth Institute put me in mind of the fact that, only yesterday, I spent a very pleasant hour with a large number of parliamentarians who are here under the banner of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
My task was to talk about the job of being Leader of the House. I ventured into most of the details, such as the business statement, the occasional difficulties of having to stand in for the Prime Minister at Question Time, the business of planning the legislative programme and all the rest, but I did not venture into trying to explain the arcane mysteries of the occasional debates in which the Leader of the House, having proposed that the House should have a holiday, sits here for three hours listening to hon. Members expressing, apparently with great passion, their desire not to have a holiday until a certain matter has been discussed.
The Leader of the House then watches the shiver of apprehension that goes around the Chamber when anyone suggests that he might accept those blandishments and withdraw his motion. Indeed, a distinct frisson passed over
Column 1069the face of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) when he heard an hon. Member say, "If we have a recess" rather than, "before we have a recess." I noted that carefully. Many subjects were raised during the debate. Manifestly, I shall not have time to respond to them all. Where I am not able to respond fully, I shall ensure that the attention of my appropriate right hon. Friends is drawn to what has been said, and they will reply in other ways, as may be appropriate.
I am especially conscious of that difficulty because several Essex issues have been raised both by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), with whom I share some concerns, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), who mentioned some educational problems that are of concern in my constituency, too. To my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford I merely say delicately that I understand why he raised those matters, and that I have no doubt that many of my constituents in the Chelmsford part of my constituency would have wished to echo what he said-- and also some of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon on education and other matters.
Let me now, in as good order as I can, deal with the speeches in the order in which they were made. I fully understand the reasons for the speeches by my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) and the importance that they attach to expressing their backing for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I am sure that he, and indeed all of us, are grateful for that. However, I hope that they will understand that, after the exchanges during Prime Minister's questions and the remarks that I made during business questions both this week and last week, and as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is in the midst of the negotiations, there is not a great deal that I can now add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have already said.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), in his capacity as parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion, raised two points, one about the recent changes in the war pensions scheme concerning deaths caused by smoking-related diseases or by alcohol-related diseases-- it is perhaps important that that should be registered. Some of the same things could be said about alcohol. The right hon. Gentleman's second argument was about the legion's wish to have what he described as a sub- department of ex-service affairs. On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I must emphasise that the legislation has been changed to ensure that the law reflects the long-standing policy of successive Governments that smoking should be regarded as attributable to service only where a disabling mental condition, itself attributable to service, renders an individual incapable of exercising personal choice.
The Government made some changes in consultation on the detail of the proposals, and I acknowledge that there is scope for some argument about how precisely the aim is best achieved. However, I believe that people in general would accept that no service man was ever required to smoke, and I do not believe that any Government ever intended to compensate for the effects of a habit such as
Column 1070smoking, in the way that at one time I thought that the right hon. Gentleman suggested--although I accept that that was probably not what he intended to do.
As for a sub-department of ex-service affairs, the right hon. Gentleman will know of the Government's general view that it is right for important services connected with people who have been in the armed forces to be a significant matter for every Government Department, and taken into account in the policies of every Department. We believe that that is best achieved within each Department rather than through the kind of co-ordinating system that the right hon. Gentleman implicitly suggested.
The right hon. Gentleman will recognise a development with which I am glad to say I had something to do when I was Secretary of State for Social Security. In my judgment at least, the creation of the War Pensions Agency has materially improved the effectiveness of one vital part of the services that we provide for ex-service people. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) made an impressive speech about the problems and interests of retired people. I cannot possibly comment on the very many subjects that he raised, but I shall ensure that what he said is studied with care. The same goes for the speech of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), about rural policing, about which I could make one or two comments. I shall, of course, bring the speech to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, observing wryly in passing, however, that I now understand why the hon. Gentleman did not respond when he was asked to tell the House what had happened to crime in Northumbria--because that would not fit in with his speech. I understand that crime in Northumbria fell by 2 per cent. in the 12 months to June 1993 -- [Interruption.] Crime fell in Northumbria as a whole. As I have been reminded, there is a joint force.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), with characteristic courtesy--I am sorry that I was not able to be in the Chamber while he was speaking--said that he did not expect me to be able to answer all his questions, but hoped that they would be answered in some other form at a later stage. I shall do my best to ensure that that happens.
I have already made some comments about the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and I hope that he will forgive me if in the circumstances, especially as there will be further debate on railway matters later tonight, I do not at this stage attempt to respond to everything that he said. I take on board what he said, and note especially what he said about hospital radio--a matter in which I also have a significant interest.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) made some significant comments that I took to represent the position of his party and not merely his personal position on matters in Northern Ireland. I hope that he will have been reassured by the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister met the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) on Tuesday and assured him that nothing done or said by the IRA and its apologists would deflect the Government from our chosen course, and that the Government would continue to pursue a lasting political settlement through the three-stranded talks process.
My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh made some comments that struck me forcefully, and I had much sympathy with them. The hon. Member for Clydebank--and that other place that I find difficult to pronounce--
Column 1071made some comments about the Commonwealth Institute, which I shall pass on, as I shall the remarks about the high- speed link. Lastly, I come to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)--I nearly always almost miss him. We all understand his frustration about street works in various places. Things sound even worse in his constituency than they are in mine. Perhaps he should change his Member of Parliament
It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 22 (Periodic Adjournments).
Question agreed to.
That this House, at its rising on Thursday 31st March, do adjourn until Tuesday 12th April and, at its rising on Friday 29th April, do adjourn until Tuesday 3rd May.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 102(9) (European Standing Committees).
-- That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8757/93 and 10761/93, relating to bovine somatotrophin (BST), and of the recommendation to prohibit the marketing and use of BST for the duration of milk quotas ; and supports the subsequent Council Decision for a continuation of the existing moratorium until 31st December 1994, linked to a declaration that the Council uses this period to consider the implications of long-term prohibition and, in particular, experience of its use in the United States.-- [Mr. Arbuthnot.]
Question agreed to .
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 102(9) (European Standing Committees).
-- That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 4911/92, and the unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Department of Trade and Industry on 4th February 1994, relating to common rules for the internal market in electricity and natural gas ; supports the Government's view that the Commission's proposals are the minimum acceptable as the second phase of the establishment of the internal energy market ; and endorses the Government's objective of progressing to full liberalisation as rapidly as possible.-- [Mr. Arbuthnot.]
The House divided : Ayes 163, Noes 40.
Division No. 170] [7.09 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James