Mr. Newton : I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will respond as appropriate to the hon. Lady's representations. The hon. Lady will know, and I certainly know from my experience as the Minister of Health, of the efforts that have been made recently in improving screening for cancer in this country.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : May I support the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) for a debate on local council tax ? That would give Labour Front-Bench Members the opportunity to explain why it is that, of all the district councils of west Kent, only Labour-controlled Gravesham borough council has not decreased its council tax, why the former Conservative-controlled Gravesham borough council had the lowest council tax last year, and why its council tax has increased to the fifth highest under Labour ?
Mr. Newton : I shall try to organise a debate. I do not think that there is a mystery about the matter, as it is a well-established historical experience that that is what happens with Labour councils.
Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East) : Is the Lord President aware of early-day motions 940 and 941 on leasehold reform, and the charter launched today by the Association of London Authorities on behalf of the 500,000 leaseholders in London who did not benefit from the recent legislation ?
[ That this House calls for the extension of leasehold enfranchisement to leaseholders paying higher ground rent, living over shops or with leases under 21 years ; believes changes in legislation are needed to ensure valuations are based on market value of the freehold only and that this should apply to leasehold extensions ; further believes that local authorities and housing associations should be able to offer advice and assistance to anyone considering exercising their right to leasehold enfranchisement ; considers the Secretary of State should ensure that any code of conduct is based on the principle that the leaseholder should have easy redress against problems they face from freeholders and that that code of conduct is accessible and comprehensible to those without legal or technical knowledge ; and demands that the Government provides adequate support to agencies such as the Leasehold Enfranchisement Advisory Service and should make leaseholders aware of their existing rights and simplify the process of enforcing such rights to make them more accessible to more people. ]
Will the Lord President therefore make time next week to debate leasehold reform, and confirm the Government's commitment to move to commonhold, so that those leaseholders may benefit from it ?
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the subject of Lancashire Enterprise Ltd., the supposedly arm's-length company set up by the Labour-controlled Lancashire county council, and the potential conflict of interest, in as much as I believe that the Labour leader of that council, who is partly responsible for a number of the contracts given to LEL, is a member of the LEL board and a shareholder in the company ?
Mr. Hugh Bayley (York) : Does the Leader of the House accept that it is not only my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) who is concerned about the 700 redundancies at the ABB carriage works, but every one of a dwindling band of hon. Members who represent manufacturing constituencies ? Because of the delay in franchising, the privatisation blight on railway orders will continue. Unless the Government allow a debate on the need for an emergency investment programme both in British Rail rolling stock and on the London Underground, they will find that, when they are in
Column 432a position to place orders, there will be no manufacturing industry left, and we will end up importing carriages from abroad.
Mr. Newton : I recognise why the hon. Gentleman has raised that question, but he will recognise that I have already responded to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), and I cannot add to what I said to her.
Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton) : In view of the callous and brutal killing of my constituent Jonathan Roberts last year while trying to apprehend a shoplifter at Plymstock Broadway, and in view of the overwhelming outpouring of public concern at the five-year prison sentence which was passed on his killer-- [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear"]-- will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Home Secretary to come to the House next week to make a statement about the Court of Appeal's sentencing guidelines for manslaughter so that a clear message can be sent from the House that five years for that sort of brutal killing is not enough ?
Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend's view is undoubtedly widely shared, as was clear from the reaction in the House. My right hon. and learned Friend will be here to discuss criminal justice matters on no fewer than three of the days to which I referred in my business statement.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Is the Leader of the House aware that we spent 80 hours, 48 minutes discussing the Coal Industry Bill in the House in all its stages leading up to Third Reading, including Committee and Report ? We then spent 27 minutes on Third Reading itself. Should not there be a change in the procedures of the House so that the Third Reading of important items is dealt with separately ? Hon. Members would then have time to reflect on the situation, and we could have a full and proper debate. That could apply to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which we are due to consider.
Mr. Newton : It is, of course, possible to make such arrangements, but it has usually been for the convenience of the House--it probably was for most of yesterday--to proceed in a way which allows flexibility, and which allows for time to be devoted to the discussion of specific points and amendments, and also the more general debate on Third Reading. That flexibility is generally valued by hon. Members of all parties.
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : Will my right hon. Friend arrange time for a debate next week on transport in London ? He will be aware of the considerable anxiety about red routes which are being imposed in London.
While it is of course recognised that parking on red routes is unfortunate, will my right hon. Friend also find time during the same debate to explain to the House how many ladies and gentlemen of the press who are members of the Lobby here have passes and park their cars in the car park below New Palace Yard ?
Mr. Newton rose
Madam Speaker : Hardly, considering that the matter concerned this House. The hon. Gentleman might think of putting his question to a Committee, rather than to the Leader of the House, because he is thereby taking up the time of the House.
Mr. Newton : I am grateful for your helpful steer to my hon. Friend, Madam Speaker. The matter which he has raised is for the Administration Committee. I will bring the first half of my hon. Friend's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Secretaries of State for Health and for Wales about underfunding in the health service and, in particular, the fact that the 2. 9 per cent. pay award to health workers apparently has not been funded centrally ? In my constituency, the local health trust is already warning that that could mean redundancy for 100 health workers. If that were repeated throughout the country, there would be many thousands of redundancies as a result of underfunding.
Mr. Newton : Naturally, I will bring the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, but she might be as resistant to its implications as I am. When I consider that the Government are now spending 65 per cent. more on the NHS in real terms than did the Government that the hon. Gentleman would have supported, I find the suggestion of underfunding a bit stretched.
Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : During which debate next week will I be able to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the Government's robust defence of Britain's voting rights in the EC ? Is not that in sharp contrast to the position of the Labour party, whose leader in the European Parliament says that the blocking minority should be at least 27 votes ? Is not it also in contrast to the Leader of the Opposition, who this afternoon proved once again
Madam Speaker : I will tell the hon. Gentleman why. We are not here to make arguments. Hon. Members are asking the Leader of the House for a certain time next week to debate a matter, and not to put arguments. If the Leader of House allows it--and the hon. Gentleman catches my eye--I will call him next week, provided that there is a debate on those matters.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : May we have a debate on the immediate threat to the jobs of 31,000 civil servants in Wales, and to congratulate the Minister of State, Welsh Office on courageously writing to the President of the Board of Trade, warning him of the danger of the loss of jobs in Wales if the Patent Office, the Account Services Agency and Companies House are privatised ? When can we debate those urgent matters ?
Mr. Newton : I note the hon. Gentleman's congratulations to my right hon. Friend. It seems to me highly unlikely that my right hon. Friend would accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestions about the likely consequences of privatisation.
Mr. Tony Banks : Did the right hon. Gentleman share my deep concern at the sight of Mrs. Thatcher collapsing in a heap in Chile recently ? May we have a debate next week on the way in which old-age pensioners are forced to go abroad from this country to earn a crust ?
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement--indeed, an explanation--from the Secretary of State for the Environment about his setting aside his decision of 2 August 1993 to refuse opencast mining at Birch Coppice in my constituency, which has now plunged thousands of my constituents into the threat of opencast mining ? Does he realise that, if the Secretary of State had a job in private industry and displayed such crass incompetence, he would be sacked ?
[ That this House rejects the proposal that Britain should be included in the Central European Time Zone ; notes that the research which is being cited in support of this idea includes 20 year old data on road traffic accidents and therefore fails to take account of new circumstances such as the welcome reduction in evening drink driving ; further notes that Cm 722 states that fuel savings would be very small compared to total energy costs' ; would be appalled by a measure which would delay the winter sunrise until after 10 a.m. in much of Scotland and after 9 a.m. in other parts of the United Kingdom ; fears that an artificial extension of morning darkness would have a detrimental effect on postal and goods delivery services, the construction industry and agriculture ; condemns a proposal which would endanger people who begin work early in the mornings ; noting that accidents to postmen and women doubled in the 1968 to 1971 experiment, and which would compel children to travel to school in darkness on icy roads ; and calls on the Government to recognise the natural laws of the solar system by keeping the link with Greenwich Mean Time in accordance with the universally recognised World Time Order of 1844. ]
Central European Time would be very damaging for postmen, farm workers and children on their way to school. Can he confirm that the Government have reversed their intention to introduce that change this Session, as reported in The Scotsman this morning ?
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : In view of the Leader of the House's announcement about the debate next week on European matters, will he find time to ensure that we debate the huge difference between the facilities available to people who drive trucks in this country and in Europe ? Is he aware that there is a growing number of women truckers, who want the same facilities as in other European countries--especially such things as toilet, washing and shower facilities ?
Mr. Newton : I do not think that I referred to a debate on European matters next week, although there is one immediately impending that raises some European issues in the agricultural field. I will bring the rest of the question to my right hon. Friend's attention, but of course the Government have been making efforts to improve facilities, especially on motorways.
Madam Speaker : I need to remind hon. Members that, on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Thursday 31 March, up to nine members may raise with Ministers subjects of their own choice. Applications should reach my office by 10 pm on Monday next. A ballot will be held on Tuesday morning, and the result made known as soon as possible thereafter.
Mr. Faulds : North-West--thank you so much for that information. Would you not agree, Madam Speaker, that there is a sort of understanding in the House that, when one hon. Member wishes to make reference to another, he gives that other hon. Member notice ? It was drawn to my attention a few days ago that, on an earlier occasion, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) made reference to the discomfiture he suffered when I placed my buttocks beside him on this Back Bench.
Mr. Faulds : Is there nothing sacred to this wanton boy ? Is the House not aware that I have the most beautiful statuesque haunches, like carved Greek marble ? Should the House not be aware that, when I place myself beside this hon. Gentleman, I get not a whimper of pain but a whinny of pleasure ?
Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : I apologise to you, Madam Speaker, if my question to the Leader of the House was too long, but, having watched the activities of other hon. Members, I was misled about what we can get away with.
Madam Speaker : I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration at having to wait for some time before being called. His pent-up feelings may have caused him to continue talking for much too long, but I am sure that he will watch it in future.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : Will you, Madam Speaker, arrange for an investigation into the use of privilege in this House ? While we all greatly prize that power, should we not be reminded that the use of privilege can destroy the careers and ruin the reputations of people outside this building ?
May we examine those who have put their names to an amendment to early-day motion 899, which draws attention to the fact that a Member--I warned him that I would draw attention to this matter this afternoon--has alleged that an ex-Member of this House got a job under circumstances that were close to nepotism ? In spite of being told personally that that information was incorrect, and being told in a letter from Gwent county council that it does not employ the former Member, that Member has refused to withdraw his allegation. May we take the matter to the Select Committee on Privileges so that the Chamber cannot be used for McCarthyite accusations ?
Madam Speaker : To some extent, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point of order. Although I shall not comment on the individual case, whether in speeches or early-day motions, all hon. Members should
Column 437exercise great care and restraint. We are all enormously privileged in this House ; no one outside has our tremendous privileges. But privilege must always be tempered with responsibility, and I hope that all hon. Members will keep that in mind.
Madam Speaker : No, it has not met. We should be proud of the fact that, in this Parliament, we have not yet had to have a Select Committee on Privileges. I hope that we all conduct ourselves in such a manner that we have no need to establish one under my Speakership.
Sir Michael Neubert
Mr. Michael Stephen
Sir David Steel
[Relevant document : European Community Document No. 4251/94, the Court of Auditors Special Report No. 7/93 on fraud in agricultural areas.]
That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 4616/94 on agricultural prices for 1994-95 and related measures, and of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food publication Agriculture in the United Kingdom 1993'.
The common agricultural policy price proposals this year are relatively modest in their scope. This reflects the impact of CAP reform, which set the price and aid levels for many products for a three-year period starting in 1993. The proposals and the context in which they are set are, nevertheless, of considerable importance to our farmers.
I shall come to the price proposals shortly, but first I will address their context, much of which is described in the publication, "Agriculture in the UK 1993", referred to in the motion.
Since last year's CAP prices debate, many major changes have affected the farming industry. The Agriculture Act 1993 has come into force, paving the way for important changes in the marketing arrangements for milk and potatoes. The CAP reforms introduced in 1992 are settling in and many of the teething problems have been addressed. Farmers have had to cope with difficult new tasks, not least the integrated administration and control system or IACS. Those affected, however--cereals farmers in particular-- stand to benefit from a significant £1 billion in direct payments under the arable scheme.
Individual sheep and suckler cow quotas have been introduced for more than 115,000 flocks and herds. The vast majority of producers received their quota allocations automatically, and we are doing everything possible to meet the needs of the minority whose circumstances do not quite fit. As evidence of this, although we have not yet finalised the calculations, I am hopeful that we shall shortly be making a full quota allocation to producers in categories 1 and 2 of the 1993 sheep national reserve, and I am glad to announce that today we opened applications to categories 3 to 7.
Of crucial importance to British farmers is the agreement reached last December on the GATT Uruguay round. That agreement will provide a major boost to the world economy, which can only be good for Britain and British farmers. It also brings specific benefits for our farm industry.
First, it gives greater certainty about the future framework within which the CAP will develop. Secondly, it will help to reduce much of the tension with third countries which the CAP caused, thereby removing, for the time being at least, the threat of challenge to CAP mechanisms. Thirdly, it should lead, in time, to a better allocation of resources and stimulate producers to take a greater interest in improving their competitiveness.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North) : On the question of the allocation of resources in the CAP, does my right hon. Friend's Department have a copy of the Thompson report which was prepared for the Commission and then suppressed by Jacques Delors because of its
Column 439inconvenient implications for French farmers ? Does she not think that this document should be made public, because we understand that it demonstrates how we can halve the cost of the CAP over a number of years, improve the efficiency of European farming, and reduce the burden on the British taxpayer ?
Mrs. Shephard : I do not have a copy of what is in fact an internal EC study. There is no evidence that it is being suppressed, but according to reports that I have read it contains some very useful ideas, many of which we would support. It examines supply controls and the move towards world market prices, and gives an interesting critique of the CAP.
My hon. Friend asked whether I would press for the report to be made public. It is certainly one of the matters that I shall be raising when I attend the Agriculture Council meeting on Monday and Tuesday. I expect to be told that the report is for internal consumption, but I also expect the ideas that it contains to reach the light of day. They will be of great interest to the Government and, I am sure, to my hon. Friend.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : May I press the right hon. Lady on this point ? She says that she might be told that the report is for internal consumption, but she sits on the Council of Ministers which is discussing these matters. Surely the people who hold the report are European civil servants and the report is the property of the Council of Ministers--although there is a distinction between the Council and the Commission. Could she not insist that the report be made public, and having insisted, could she not make it available in the Library of the House of Commons because many of us would find it very interesting indeed ?
Mrs. Shephard : Since I have not seen the report and am not yet aware of its status, I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question directly, but he can be certain that I will raise the matter at the Agriculture Council and with the Commission. Since it was commissioned not by the Council but by the Commission, there might be a slight awkwardness. What is of interest, however, is clearly the information that it contains as well as other reports of the same ilk.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : The hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) has raised an important matter. Does the Commission produce many documents to which the Council of Ministers may not necessarily have access ? Is that an established position ?
The Commission does a great deal of continuing work. If the hon. Gentleman asks the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright), who is sitting next to him and who has a great deal of experience of the subject, he will confirm the position. The papers that are commissioned by the Council of Ministers naturally come within its ownership. However, any information that can inform debate within the Agriculture Council is of interest to me, which is why I shall raise the matter next week--on Monday and Tuesday.
I was talking about the implications of GATT. I know that there is some concern among the farming community that further radical policy changes might be needed to meet the requirements of GATT. The National Farmers Union
Column 440has done detailed work on the subject. I think that its estimates of the impact of GATT err on the gloomy side, particularly in relation to cereals and milk. We are closely in touch with the NFU on the details. Our analysis of the impact of the agreement supports the Commission's conclusion that common agricultural policy reform and the GATT agreement are broadly compatible.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : If the GATT agreement is broadly compatible with CAP reform, why is the Commission proposing a 1 per cent. reduction in milk quota, which would be deeply damaging to milk producers in this country ? Will the Minister assure the House that she will resist that proposal at the Council of Ministers next week ?
Mrs. Shephard : I shall come in a moment to the way in which I propose to tackle the price proposals next week. I assure my hon. Friend that I shall resist a cut in Britain's milk quota, and I shall explain that later in my remarks.
The fact that we believe that CAP reform and the GATT agreement are broadly compatible does not mean that there will be no further CAP reform. The need for reform of the Mediterranean and sugar regimes is clear, and the reform of the beef regime is only partly achieved. Those reforms would be required regardless of GATT, but the GATT agreement reinforces them and offers a coherent way forward. My starting point in considering the price proposals must be my immediate objectives for agriculture, which is a major British industry, occupying almost 80 per cent. of the land area of the United Kingdom. Its importance for the prosperity of the rural economy and the maintenance of an attractive countryside cannot be overstated. It provides the raw materials for our food processing industry. It is the first--and an essential--link in the food chain, extending from the farmer, through the food industry and retailers, to consumers and their families. That chain employs 14 per cent. of the nation's work force and contributes 9 per cent. to the nation's gross domestic product.
The Government recognise the central importance of farming. Our objective is to ensure that British farmers are given every opportunity to compete successfully and to prosper. Provided that the conditions are right, the efficiency and flexibility of British farmers and their ability to respond to changing market developments and technological opportunities will ensure their success. We are taking important steps to ensure that the conditions are right. Central to our approach is my belief that our farmers will best be served by allowing them to compete in a free and open market, unencumbered by over-regulation or distortion and bureaucracy. A key task is the removal of unnecessary regulation from farmers. That was the prime motive for legislating to change the arrangements for the marketing of milk. I have also announced a timetable for a free market in potatoes to be set up. When parliamentary time permits, I plan to introduce proposals to reform the agricultural holdings