Mr. Madden rose
Madam Speaker : Order. We have a procedure whereby points of order always come after business questions. [Interruption.] Order. Will hon. Members, for goodness' sake, listen. The hon. Gentleman has been asked to resume his seat, and I ask him to do so. The procedure is always that business questions are a continuation of Question Time. Therefore, I take points of order after business questions.
Monday 18 April----Second Reading of the Trade Marks Bill [ Lords ].
Motion on the Isle of Wight (Structural Change) Order.
Tuesday 19 April----Progress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
Wednesday 20 April----Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
Motion on the Maternity Allowance and Statutory Maternity Pay Regulations.
Thursday 21 April----Opposition Day (10th allotted day). There will be a debate on "Transport" on an Opposition motion.
Friday 22 April----Private Members' Bills.
Monday 25 April----Until about Seven o'clock, private Members' motions.
Motion on the Travellers' Allowances Order.
Motion on the HMSO Trading Fund (Amendment) Order.
The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee A will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 20 April to consider European Community document No. 4311/94 relating to the Court of Auditors special report No. 8/93 on the common organisation of the market in raw tobacco.
Mr. Brown : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and for the Opposition day. Can he arrange an early debate on the Select Committee report on political party funding ? In particular, will he arrange for a discussion of the requirement that
"illegally obtained money would not be acceptable and, if discovered to be so obtained, would be returned" ?
There is a great deal of interest in the House and in the country in this matter, and an early debate would be appreciated.
Can the right hon. Gentleman also arrange for an early debate on the political independence of the civil service, particularly in the light of the letter from Mr. Bob Welch, of the social services inspectorate of the Department of Health, to other civil servants, in which he says :
"A continuing flow of positive messages about community care would pay political dividends at both local and national levels" ? It is not the function of the civil service to take part in party-political matters of this kind. An early debate would be appreciated.
Finally, will the Leader of the House find time in the near future for a discussion of the Procedure Committee's report relating to parliamentary scrutiny of deregulation orders and the important constitutional principles that are involved ?
Mr. Newton : On the question of a debate on the Select Committee report on party funding, which was published yesterday, it would be sensible, before further consideration, to study the report properly.
Column 421On the question of the letter from the social services officer, the hon. Gentleman will know that the social services chief inspector has said :
"I acknowledge that this letter concludes with an inappropriate paragraph. The author is in no doubt of his error."
I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
My colleagues and I are carefully studying the Select Committee on Procedure's proposed procedures in respect of deregulation orders, and I am sure that it will in due course be appropriate to advert to them in debate- -not least in debates during the remaining stages of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill.
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : Will my right hon. Friend make yet another attempt next week to encourage a sensible attitude by the Opposition to reforming the House along the lines of the Jopling report ? Is he aware that it is wanted by hon. Members in all parts of the House, and that the way in which we conduct our affairs is regarded by the outside world with derision ?
Mr. Newton : I am sure that my hon. Friend is right when he says that our ways are regarded by many people outside, and quite a number inside, as somewhat strange at times--although they are a good deal less strange than in earlier years when my hon. Friend and I were in the House. My hon. Friend will know and appreciate that I am much concerned to make the progress that he seeks. He knows also of the difficulties and that I will do anything that I can to overcome them.
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : Will the Leader of the House ensure that Ministers at the Department of the Environment explain at the earliest opportunity what is happening about the overdue submission to Europe on natural dispersion areas and the possible downgrading of pollution clean-up plans for beaches, which are of considerable concern around the country ? I understand that a list has been prepared, but that the House is not yet aware of it.
Mr. Newton : I am not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman a substantive answer immediately, but I will draw his question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is due to answer questions in the House next Wednesday.
Mr. Newton : I cannot at the moment tell my hon. Friend--to whom I have paid tribute on a number of occasions for his interest in those matters--when there will next be an opportunity for such a debate, but I will certainly bear his implicit request in mind.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : The Leader of the House will have noted that during Prime Minister's questions the issue of council tax was raised several times. May the House debate that subject at an early date, to seek further clarification ? For example, are the Leader of the House and his colleagues aware that if Gateshead and Newcastle councils had been given the same level of Government support as Tory-controlled Westminster, they could not only have charged substantially less council tax but given back their band D council tax payers up to
Column 422£1,000, while still providing the same levels of service ? Does not that demonstrate that council tax statistics, like unemployment statistics, are yet another Tory fiddle ?
Mr. Newton : In view of the way that things have been going, there is a strong temptation to provide time for such a debate. I thought that the debate had been brought to a decisive and crisp conclusion by Mr. Peter Kellner in The Sunday Times , with his brisk comment :
"The fact is, Gummer is right and Straw is wrong."
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : Does my right hon. Friend share my disdain at last night's attempt by BBC television to present the D-day celebrations as some kind of European election stunt ? [ Hon. Members-- : "Hear, hear."] If he does, will he find time for an early debate on media standards, so that the House can remind the BBC that the date of European elections is fixed by Europe, D-day is a fixed date in history, many brave and elderly ex-service men and women are looking forward to those celebrations and that such creative reporting can only damage the BBC's reputation ?
Mr. Newton : I did not see that programme, but it is obvious from the response of hon. Members on both sides of the House that my hon. Friend's remarks enjoy a good deal of sympathy. I hope that they will be studied with care by those at whom they were directed.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : Is the Leader of the House aware of the great alarm and despondency generated by stories emanating from Europe that access by Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets will be accelerated from the time agreed when Spain and Portugal joined the European Community ? Since that would appear directly to contradict the promise given by Ministers before they entered negotiations, may we have an early statement or, even better, a proper debate to examine thoroughly exactly what is happening ?
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest) : In the light of recent comments by the chairman of Ford Europe to the effect that his British plants were overtaking the Germans in cost efficiency for the first time, may we have a debate on the increasing competitiveness of our manufacturing industry so that we may discuss not only that but the effects of the social chapter and Labour's taxation policies on all corporations in this country, which have been estimated by the head of the CBI as increasing business taxation by no less than 25 per cent. from present levels ?
Mr. Newton : Again, my hon. Friend makes an attractive case for a debate, which I will certainly bear in mind. He made some very valid points about the increasing attractions of this country--over a long period now-- for manufacturing and in other investment, reflected in the number of Japanese, American and, indeed, German decisions to bring their money here.
Ms Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South) : Will the Leader of the House arrange an urgent debate next week on age discrimination in the national health service ? Will he bear in mind the fact that the evidence today, which gives clear indications of age discrimination, has not been brought to
Column 423the attention of either the Department of Health or the Prime Minister ? Therefore, an urgent debate to clarify that matter and prevent it is the best way forward.
Mr. Newton : The hon. Lady will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said a few moments ago. I will not repeat that, but just make the point, in addition to the points that he made about the very large increase in expenditure on people over retirement age, which is much larger than the increase in their number, that people over 65 in England make up only 16 per cent. of the population, but enjoy about 40 per cent.--some £6 billion--of hospital and community health expenditure.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House and make a statement about junior hospital doctors, in the light of the tragic death of my constituent, Dr. Alan Massie, at the age of 27 ? He was a talented and able young doctor, the son of George and Margaret Massie of Byrons Lane, Macclesfield, and died on 31 January of this year at Warrington district general hospital. Clearly, the pressure on junior hospital doctors --the number of hours that they are still expected to work--is too great. Action needs to be taken.
Mr. Newton : Perhaps the first thing that I should do--I am sure on behalf of the whole House--is to join in offering our sympathy to Dr. Massie's family and friends. He was clearly a very dedicated young man. I understand why my hon. Friend raised the question, but we do not yet know quite why he died. It would be wrong to speculate before we know more about the facts. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend has made very clear her commitment to reducing junior doctors' hours, and is working with the profession on the so-called new deal and its timetable.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : May we have a statement next week from the Secretary of State for the Environment, because the Scottish Office announced this morning that it will be illegal for the new water quangos that are to be set up in Scotland to disconnect domestic consumers ? Should not that also apply to the rest of the United Kingdom, where, as I understand it, more than 50, 000 people have had vital water supplies disconnected ?
Mr. Newton : I will certainly draw that matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, but I am bound to make the point that I spent quite a lot of time in the small hours of this morning listening to the hon. Gentleman's colleagues--though not, I think, to the hon. Gentleman--protesting mightily about things being the same in Scotland as in England.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) : My right hon. Friend knows of my excellent Chesham chamber of trade, which has its finger on the pulse of small and medium-size businesses. In the light of its representations to me, there stands on the Order Paper early-day motion 912 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates), myself and 275 other hon. Members from both sides of the House.
[ That this House welcomes the publication of the consultation paper Late Payment of Commercial Debt, as
Column 424announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget statement ; notes the negative impact which late payment of commercial debt has on the job creation potential of, in particular, smaller businesses ; recognises the importance of the small business sector in generating growth in the United Kingdom economy ; and believes that the only effective solution to the problem of late payment of business debts is the implementation of a statutory right to interest on overdue commercial debts. ]
I ask for an urgent debate on the right to statutory interest on commercial debt, particularly for small and medium-size businesses, as the recovery will come from them. At the moment, they are struggling because of late payment from larger organisations. Will my right hon. Friend please press for an urgent debate on that subject ?
Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend expresses a concern which is not confined to her constituency. She will, of course, know that the Government have instituted a consultation process on this very matter and I think that perhaps the appropriate time for further debate is after that process has been completed.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make a statement next week to clarify his understanding of surrender and the cessation of violence for good and to state whether the Northern Ireland Office has in mind an amnesty to allow people to hand in their weapons to show their good faith in going forward for peace ?
Mr. Newton : I will, of course, bring the hon. Gentleman's question properly to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend, but it is my understanding that his remarks in no way sought to go beyond what has already been said about the joint declaration.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) : Will my right hon. Friend find time, if not next week then as soon as possible, for a debate on the Home Affairs Select Committee's report on the funding of political parties ? I believe that the vast majority of taxpayers will agree that taxpayers should not fund political parties, but that we should go to the electorate ourselves to raise those funds. Would not they also be interested in the direct and disturbing link between the trade union movement, which provides more than half the money spent by the Labour party, and the fact that it has one third of the votes in the election of the leader of the Labour party and two thirds of the votes at the Labour party conference ?
Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend makes some very good points which would command widespread support. However, as for a debate, I cannot at this stage add to what I said to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) at the outset of our exchanges.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Are we to suppose that the first that the right hon. Gentleman knew about the statement by Scottish Ministers on water disconnections was what my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said just now ? Did the right hon. Gentleman know what had been said ?
Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : With the local elections pressing hard upon us, does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important considerations for the electors to bear in mind is the very high level of debt facing many local authorities, the interest payments on which are the reason why so many Labour and Liberal councils are having to levy much higher council taxes than Conservative councils ? Will he find time for a statement to be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on local authority debts so that the public are well aware of which authorities have the highest debts ?
Mr. Newton : I am happy to say that one of our great national newspapers has this morning published a substantial chart showing exactly that. I hope that it will be widely studied, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will do his best to extend the spread of that information.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston) : Will the Leader of the House reflect on the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo) and on the fact that the Prime Minister's responses to the allegations are not satisfactory ? People in the category in question--I am one of them--will be concerned about what is happening to elderly people in the health service. The least that the Government can offer is for the Secretary of State for Health to explain the position and verify the statement made from the Government Benches.
Mr. Newton : I had resisted simply repeating points that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had made, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend made it clear that neither patient in the BBC report had been refused treatment and that both had been offered better options.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) : Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the principles of GP fundholding, because even if one were to accept the Opposition's argument that there is a two-tier system, the logical course would be for all patients to be raised to the top tier ? Would not such a debate show that only the Conservatives are willing to trust GPs to know how to spend money in the best interests of patients-- rather than the bureaucrats whom the Labour party would rather trust ?
Mr. Newton : Understandably, with his professional expertise, my hon. Friend makes a good point. It is up to doctors and other clinicians to make decisions about patient treatment, taking account of a variety of factors, and no doubt that is what happened in the case concerned.
[ That this House questions the NVQ system of training certification in conditions of fraud by training agents ; notes that TECs simply do not have the resources to ensure that quality standards in training are fully maintained ; believes that a verification procedure, over which TECs seem to have no control, and where the national examination boards are dependent on the honesty of training agents, invites widespread abuse ; believes that a system of remunerating training agents on the basis of performance payments invites fraud ; notes that Cumbria TEC spends more resources on financial checks than the funds provided by the Department of Employment for this purpose ; notes that the
Column 426system of priorities adopted by Cumbria TEC is acknowledged by training providers nationally ; and believes that despite the work of Cumbria TEC and others with national organisations, such as NCVQ, to create watertight systems for training administration the quality of training in this country is being gravely undermined by a number of training organisations who are prepared to go to any length to cheat the taxpayer. ]
May we debate that motion, especially in the light of the fact that I have here a business administration level two NVQ provided by a training company in west Cumbria for one of my constituents who was never trained by that company ? The document is one of a number of fraudulent certificates sponsored by that company. We should debate such matters, because many of us believe fraud of that nature is happening in industrial training throughout the United Kingdom.
Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the National Council for Vocational Qualifications requires awarding bodies to maintain appropriate standards in the awarding of NVQs. He made serious allegations, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will want to ensure that they are appropriately investigated.
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester) : Has my right hon. Friend had a request from the Labour party to use one of its Supply days to discuss its education policies, which advocate, among other things, the abolition of the assisted places scheme, which helps about 30,000 children from less well-off families to attend excellent schools such as the Alice Ottley school, the Royal grammar school and the King's school in my constituency of Worcester ?
Mr. Newton : I am receiving from my hon. Friends a steady stream of tempting suggestions for debates. My hon. Friend's suggestion is tempting, because there is much else in what the Opposition say about education that could do with being more fully exposed on the Floor of the House.
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : Following this morning's announcement that the Scottish Office will introduce legislative proposals to give a legal guarantee against water disconnections in Scotland, will there be time next week for the Prime Minister to make a statement on whether he and the rest of the Cabinet were aware at the time that that commitment had been given ? That would also allow him to give a commitment to the House that, as there is to be a legal guarantee against the barbarism of water disconnections in Scotland, the same protection and legal guarantee will given to our fellow citizens in England and Wales.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : May I support the call of my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) for a debate next week on borrowing in local government, especially in London boroughs, centring on the borough of Ealing, where between 1986 and 1990 the members of the Labour administration, loonies as they all are, borrowed £2,000 per head for every man, woman and
Column 427child in Ealing ? That has meant heavy debts for all future generations, and the facts should be brought out before the House, so I ask for an urgent debate.
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : The Leader of the House will be aware that, yet again, the sitting of European Standing Committee B scheduled for next week has been cancelled without reference to the Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation. Will the right hon. Gentleman please urgently investigate why, at the behest of Members on either Front Bench, that happens without reference to the people who attend week in, week out ?
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : Has my right hon. Friend had a request from either the Liberal or the Labour party for a Supply day debate on those parties' European manifesto policies, which would lead to the possibility of our veto being removed ? That could jeopardise, among other things, this country's £3 billion rebate negotiated at Fontainebleau. If he has not been asked, will he consider such a request anyway so that the general British public can be crystal clear about what Opposition policies would mean ?
Mr. Newton : I am afraid that I have not had such a request and it seems somewhat unlikely that I shall receive such a request from the Opposition Front Bench. Should I receive such a request, I would consider it warmly.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time on the burgeoning growth of quangos under this Government ? Such quangos are often characterised by sleaze and corruption and leave many taxpayers bewildered and angry over why so much of their money is being paid to friends, cronies and political allies of quango middle managers. Will he arrange for an early debate so that those matters may be brought to his attention and to the attention of the Government as a whole ?
Mr. Newton : I do not accept the broad generalisations that the hon. Gentleman is making. Indeed, many of the bodies to which he refers have been greatly improving the service that people have been receiving in various ways. I certainly have no intention of providing time for an early debate of the kind that he suggests.
Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton) : May I add my voice to those calling for a debate on the council tax to enable the Liberal Democrats to explain in the Chamber how on earth-- [Hon. Members :-- "Where are they ?"] None of them appears to be in the Chamber at the moment. May we have that debate so that the Liberal Democrats may explain how, with inflation at only 2.4 per cent., Liberal-controlled Devon county council has increased its council tax by 8.8 per cent. in the current year ? The debate would enable us to take a view on whether the Liberal Democrats spend other people's money as though it is going out of fashion.
Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend has made some good points. If I may say, if the hon. Member concerned does not mind his comment from a sedentary position being quoted, I have been provided with a good answer by the Labour Deputy Chief Whip : the first requirement is to get any Liberals at all in the Chamber.
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : Is the Leader of the House aware of reports that have been received over the past few hours that two American helicopters have been shot down in northern Iraq, possibly by the Iraqis, and with the possible loss of life of 12 United Nations officials ? In view of the seriousness of that incident and of its implications, should not time be made available today either for a debate or a statement, so that we may find out from the Government what discussions are taking place about a potential response ? Is not the event serious enough to merit that, especially as most hon. Members will be leaving the House tonight and not returning until Monday ? Most hon. Members would agree that there is every likelihood of some military response, which would occur without the House having debated the matter.
Mr. Newton : Certainly, the reported incidents to which the hon. Gentleman refers are of some considerable seriousness. The correct serious response for me to make is to draw his remarks immediately to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Defence Secretary.
Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) : Will my right hon. Friend consider the way in which the 20 Supply days are allocated among the Opposition parties ? Given the decision of 42 Opposition Members to vote against the Third Reading of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill last night, only two months after 53 of them called for a mass socialist commitment to massive public spending, many of us are interested in an opportunity to debate the views of the real Labour party.
Mr. Newton : There is a gathering number of strange decisions in the voting patterns of the Opposition, and my hon. Friend has referred to two of them. We could well use some explanation, but it would be a triumph of hope over experience to expect to get it.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : May we have a debate on the role of Select Committees in the light of the decision in the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee after its study of political funding over 13 months and after visiting three countries ? The majority report disregarded 95 per cent. of the evidence with which it was provided, probably because of political views, rather than reporting that evidence, as Select Committees should, for the benefit of the House and the country. Is not it a matter of the greatest urgency that we inspect and investigate the allegation, which any fair-minded person would conclude from that report, that the Conservative party is funded by criminal and other immoral organisations ?