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Mr. Newton : That is bordering on the scandalous in terms of remarks made on the Floor of the House. Perhaps more to the point in terms of the proprieties of the House, it seemed to be a substantial attack on the integrity of a Select Committee and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on his remarks.
Mr. David Shaw (Dover) : May we have an urgent statement by the Home Secretary on the number of Labour councillors and former Labour councillors who are now in gaol in this country, and how much that is costing the nation's taxpayers ?
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 1004, which has been signed by more than 50 hon. Members on both sides of the House, condemning the outrageous treatment by the Greek Government of former King Constantine and his family ?
[ That this House condemns the declared intention of the Greek Government to destroy the rights of former King Constantine of the Hellenes as a Greek citizen, by removing his citizenship and his passport, by appropriating his property without compensation including his family graveyard, through use of edicts imposed by the colonel dictators, and by denying him his basic human right of recourse to the courts of his own country to challenge the validity of these edicts and laws. ]
Is not it totally wrong to treat anyone, whether a king or a commoner, like that--a person who has lived in this country with his family since his exile ? The Greek Government propose to take their passports away and remove their citizenship, to appropriate their property without compensation and, above all--and worst of all--to infringe their basic human right to take the problem and their complaints to their courts.
Mr. Newton : I have seen the hon. and learned Gentleman's early-day motion. Indeed, I have read it with care and noted what it says. He will understand, however, that it is a matter for the Greek authorities and the former king. I am sure that they will also take note and consider what the hon. and learned Gentleman said.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : May we have a further statement about the coal industry and the continuing closure of pits with specific reference to Tower colliery, where miners in south Wales decided last week to continue to fight to keep the colliery open ? British Coal management then decided to use various devious means--they threatened to close the pit completely, to take it out of the colliery review procedure and then to put it back again, and they then said that they would continue production--to confuse the miners with the clear intention of trying to get them to reverse their vote. In view of all that, will the Leader of the House ensure that the President of the Board of Trade makes a statement here and keeps the pits open in Britain ? We do not have enough pits as it is. But one thing is certain--the last pit in south Wales is worth fighting for.
Mr. Newton : With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, that sounds like a rather tendentious account of affairs. Of course, I will bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend, together with the request for a statement.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : Does the Leader of the House recall that he, together with his Cabinet colleagues, endorsed the concept that there should be transparency in all negotiations within the Councils of the European
Column 430Union ? In that context, why has there not been a statement on the Fisheries Council meeting on 12 April, or the opportunity to debate the matter ? Will we have to wait until the normal fisheries debate in November, or will we have an early clear statement or debate on issues such as relative stability, historic rights which appear to be sold out and the policing of the Spanish armada, which will now have access to the North sea ? That is a matter of great concern to people in my area whose livelihoods depend on the catching and processing of fish.
Mr. Newton : Obviously, I understand why the hon. Lady has raised that question ; indeed, some of my hon. Friends raised related matters yesterday afternoon. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will wish to make things as clear as she can to the hon. Lady at the earliest possible opportunity.
Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke) : May I emphasise again to the Leader of the House the need for a statement or debate on the future of the fishing industry, particularly with regard to the treaty of accession and its implications, not only for the North sea and the Scottish fishing industry but for the fishing industry in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the south- west of England ? It is an important issue. I hope that, because three Members of Parliament have raised the issue today, the Leader of the House will impress on the Minister of Agriculture the urgency of the situation and the need for a full statement and debate.
Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will understand that I mean it when I say that I will ensure that my right hon. Friend is made aware of the concerns expressed from various parts of the House, as she was made aware of the concerns expressed from the Government Benches yesterday.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) : I suspect from his evidence that the Leader of the House will agree that the recent report from the Information Committee could significantly improve the way in which hon. Members give service to their constituencies and the way in which they perform their duties within the House. Will he arrange for an early debate on that report, which is supported by a large number of hon. Members from all parties ?
Mr. Newton : I will, of course, look at the matter. It is an important report and the House must consider, when judging it, whether the relevant expenditure is appropriate. Some important issues are involved and, of course, I understand that they need to be debated. I cannot make an immediate promise about when.
[ That this House, recalling the Times report of 22nd January 1986 that a Conservative Minister, the honourable Member for North Wiltshire, had heavy losses paid for by parties within Lloyd's and believing that honourable Members should not be given beneficial treatment unavailable to their constituents driven to destitution, bankruptcy and even suicide by similar losses, condemns the decision of at least 12 honourable Members to refuse to disclose their membership on Lloyd's syndicates in the 1994 Register of Members' Interests which, by keeping secret their liabilities, alarms those both inside and outside this House that another special arrangement is being made to alleviate the
Column 431liabilities of honourable Members alone, therefore avoiding possible bankruptcies and subsequent by-elections ; and believes that, because of their refusal, information from Lloyd's Blue Books and the independent Chatset League tables estimating potential Lloyd's losses, using the average premium per member of each syndicate in the absence of a disclosed figure, should be revealed showing combined losses of over £6 million for the honourable Member for Holland with Boston, the honourable Member for Finchley, the honourable Member for Romsey and Waterside, the Right honourable Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, the honourable Member for North Norfolk, the Right honourable Member for Wirral West, the honourable Member for Stroud, the honourable Member for North Wiltshire, the honourable Member for South Hams, the honourable Member for Bosworth and the honourable Member for Weston-Super- Mare. ]
and 894 and 1008 standing in my name, and may I ask for an early debate on Lloyd's ?
Is the Leader of the House aware of the calculation by a former Lloyd's underwriter that 51 Conservative Members who have been investors with Lloyd's have losses of £22 million, and that these may be being paid by retrospective stop loss policies, by drawing on Lloyd's central funds and by the Members' agencies in a way that is not the case for other external names, who face destitution and bankruptcy and have even committed suicide ? Surely we need an urgent Government statement on the matter, or at least a proper inquiry.
Mr. Newton : I am obviously aware of the early-day motions to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I am frankly reluctant to commit myself to what he wants in view of the way in which--in my judgment--he has been conducting himself in relation to the matters.
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : Does the Leader of House accept that the meeting of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development in May this year is a vital and, indeed, historic occasion ? The commission is, of course, the prime mechanism for enabling the countries of the world to confront the grave environmental crisis which faces us all. It has been receiving reports from all the signatories of Agenda 21, and there scarcely could be a more important subject. May we please have a debate on that meeting, either before or after it takes place ?
Mr. Newton : We showed our commitment to environmental policies and our willingness to have debates in the House when possible and appropriate at the time of the Rio summit. In that spirit, I will look at what the hon. Gentleman has said, although I cannot make a promise to him this afternoon.
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. During Prime Minister's Question Time, the Prime Minister referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) in a way which you felt was unparliamentary. At your request, the right hon. Gentleman rephrased his earlier
Column 432point. However, I think that the record will show that the Prime Minister did not withdraw his unparliamentary remark and did not apologise for it. I respectfully ask you, Madam Speaker, to check the record and to ask the Prime Minister formally to withdraw his remark and to apologise for it on the Floor of the House.
Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) raised a quite correct point of order. If the point of order from the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) relates to that, I will hear it. However, we are not concerned with lies about the NHS. We are concerned about the point of order, and the hon. Gentleman's point of order must relate to that.
Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Shaw : My concern relates to the ability of an hon. Member-- whether he is the Prime Minister or a Back Bencher--to say, where a clear lie has been stated in the House, that a lie has been stated without in any way wishing to be derogatory about the person who may have made the statement.
Madam Speaker : Order. There can be no further points of order on this. I have captured the spirit of the House on this matter from the point of order of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East. Of course, I heard clearly the Prime Minister's remarks which, I have to say, I felt were unparliamentary. However, it is for me to decide whether the rephrasing that he offered was acceptable and I deemed that it was acceptable.
In any event, I should like to remind the entire House--this relates to Back Benchers as well as Front Benchers--of the very wise words of "Erskine May" :
"Good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language."
All Members--both Front Bench and Back Bench, however long they have been here and whether or not they are new Members who came here at the last election--should remember those fine words. Let us conduct ourselves in that spirit in future.
Mr. Winnick : I want to ask you a question, on a point of order. I have heard you, like your predecessors, ask hon. Members who used expressions that are not allowed in this Chamber to withdraw them immediately. You have insisted on that. Does not the same apply to the Prime Minister ?
parliamentarian. I dealt with the point of order raised by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman and have firmly made my views known in the House on a number of occasions. I shall take no further points of order on the matter, which has been dealt with. I will, of course, listen to any other points of order.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On an entirely different point of order, Madam Speaker. During Prime Minister's Question Time, is it in order for a Prime Minister to cast a slur on a member of another place ? I refer to the right hon. Gentleman's reference to Labour Prime Ministers' use of No. 10 Downing street for fund-raising purposes.
Column 434Ought that to be drawn to the attention of Lord Callaghan, because there might be great resentment at the insinuation that the noble Lord acted improperly ?
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : In view of the new flexibility in the rules, can we have a retrospective ruling on the eight separate occasions on which I ran into difficulties with the Speaker--only once with you, Madam Speaker--and wipe the slate clean ?
Madam Speaker : I try to wipe the slate clean on each occasion. That is why the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and I are such good friends today--[ Laughter ]--so far, but there is some time to go before the end of the day.
That this House, in this the International Year of the Family, condemns the failure of the Conservative Government to bring forward policies which give real and lasting support and encouragement to families ; notes with alarm the damage to family life resulting from Government policies over the last 15 years which have produced substantial high levels of long-term unemployment, undermined health, education and housing services, increased the tax burden on ordinary families despite Government promises to the contrary, widened the gap between rich and poor, contributed to the significant increase in the incidence of marital breakdown, and threatened family security as a result of soaring crime rates ; and calls on the Government to develop as a matter of urgency a comprehensive family policy which invests in training and job creation, extends welfare services, particularly pre-school provision, and meets the targets of the International Year of the Family and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I welcome the opportunity to open this debate on family policy, although it is a pity that Ministers did not feel strongly enough about the issue to raise it themselves at an earlier date. After all, we are already one quarter of the way through the year, which has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of the Family--a year in which we are encouraged to make this a more family-friendly country and to develop policies to that end. Perhaps I should not be surprised by the Government's slow reaction. The Secretary of State might need more time to ease herself into her new tagged-on role--how did No. 10 describe it ?
"with responsibility for the family".
Despite all the ministerial rhetoric--much of which struck me as hypocritical, sickening and ill-judged--the "back to basics" fiasco and the subsequent squirming of prominent representatives of the Conservative party, the Government do not have a coherent family policy.
As we can judge from the Government amendment, they are prepared to sacrifice support in the names of independence and offering choice, but that is appropriate only when families feel that they have a choice.
In the circumstances, the Secretary of State's new responsibilities can be seen only as a reflection of Government public relations panic. Who better to reassure us of the Government's good intentions towards families than the Minister who made the remarkable claim that she shopped in Marks and Spencer earlier than the rest of us to avoid the embarrassment of being mobbed by crowds congratulating her on the running of the health service ?
I have no doubt that the Minister's rhetoric will be confidently delivered, coming from someone whom my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Ms Jowell), writing in the Evening Standard last night, described as
Column 436"living in a fantasy world, a world of her own, with its own language, its own culture and now its own bizarre customs and practices."
The reference, by the way, was to a visit made by the Secretary of State for Health to a new general practice clinic in Dulwich. The timing of the visit was switched at the last moment so that the Minister could avoid any unpleasant demonstrations--clearly, not Marks and Spencer customers.
But even Tory Ministers cannot run away from the truth for ever. For the past 15 years, the Conservative party has consistently undermined families. Policy after policy has chiselled away at the optimism of families, withdrawn hope for their future and that of their children, sapped the confidence of individuals to cope. In their place has come fear--fear of crime in our streets, of repossession of homes, of homelessness itself, of bankruptcy of small businesses, redundancy and unemployment, and of the ever-increasing tax burden on ordinary people. The social impact of all these influences on young people who are robbed of hope before they reach adulthood is reflected in increasing alienation. I am surprised that so many cope and emerge as good citizens.
People are distressed by the sight of young homeless beggars on our streets, a sight that I never saw in my childhood. They are appalled by the knowledge that sick people are treated on trolleys in hospital corridors, wondering whether that will be their fate too. They are frightened by the prospect that, with incapacity and old age, will come bills that eat into their hard-earned savings. Yet only two years ago the Prime Minister boasted of his ambition to bring about an economic climate in which wealth would flow down from generation to generation. Increasingly, elderly people find their savings swallowed up by care charges or nursing home fees.
These are inescapable facts. The Secretary of State for Health will no doubt try to dismiss them as anecdotal evidence, but I can tell her that they are genuine fears and experiences shared by millions of people. They are more meaningful and true to people's lives than any of the carefully selected figures supplied by Government Departments.
The Conservative philosophy on families is quite straightforward. What have they to offer ? Independence, opportunity and choice, they say.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : The hon. Lady is talking about making policies clear. Will she make it clear what the Labour party's policy is on child benefit ? Does she agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) that child benefit should be scrapped ? On 14 December 1993, he was quoted in the Daily Express as saying that scrapping child benefit was an option that ought to be looked at.
Miss Lestor : The hon. Gentleman must ask my hon. Friend. I have not seen that statement. If he asks me what my view is, I am a believer in and supporter of universal child benefit. I always have been, and I always will be.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to explain to hon. Members on the Government Benches that, unlike them, we do not make up policy on the cuff of our shirt sleeves, and that the difference between a Back-Bench Member,
Column 437however distinguished, voicing his own opinion on social security benefits and the Front-Bench team of the Labour party announcing an agreed policy is considerable.
Miss Lestor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was asked what my views were, and I have given them. I have made them perfectly public and will continue to do so. I am a supporter of universal child benefit.
Before I was so uncharmingly interrupted, I was saying that Conservative policy on families is straightforward. Conservatives say that they have independence, opportunity and choice. But where are the "dramatic" improvements in living standards mentioned in the Government's amendment ? Where are the opportunities that empower families ? What are the choices ? The amendment is a blatant attempt by the Government to offload their share of responsibility. That attitude places an extraordinary burden on individuals. It is an act of extreme irresponsibility ; of moral and social cowardice by the Government.
Small wonder that the Government have no family policy--in its place, a rag -bag of unrelated legislation and guidelines ; requirements on local government to pick up the pieces without the resources to make a good job of it ; and an enthusiasm by the Government to blame anyone who falls short of the ideal. It is always someone else's responsibility--someone else's problem--as I will show.
To listen to some Ministers, we might be forgiven for thinking that it was not the Conservative party that brought in the socially damaging poll tax, bungled our entry into the exchange rate mechanism, with disastrous results, or fundamentally undermined local government, health and education services. The worst failings are now presented by Government spin doctors as the failings of individual Ministers who resign, are sacked or, in the remarkable case of the current Chancellor, are given the chance to collect a full set of departmental disasters. Let us hope that he learns from his experiences.
That approach to scapegoating individuals when Government policies go wrong is followed through right along the line. Juvenile crime ? The fault of individual parents. Under-achieving at school ? The teachers' fault. Teenage pregnancy ? Moral lassitude by young girls anxious to get a council house. Let us not overlook the lasting impact of the swinging sixties--they have been brought in as well. You name it, they will find something or someone else to take the blame. It is a simple approach, but it is not a very honest one.
Miss Lestor : The Government have been in power for 15 years. During that time, as the Government have said themselves, an increasing number of young people leaving school have had educational difficulties. There is no one else to blame but the Government. The overwhelming majority of children in our schools now have experienced no other Government than the current one. I blame the Government for the lack of educational opportunity in our schools.
The absence of a co-ordinated approach to family-friendly policies, the absence of a commitment to developing a network of preventative support services to families and their individual members, leaves a huge policy gap.
Column 438Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Streeter rose
Mr. Streeter : I should like to introduce the hon. Lady to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who has just entered the Chamber, who is a Front-Bench spokesman on social security--not, as the hon. Lady said, a Back Bencher. He wants to reform child benefit ; she wants it to stay as it is. What is the Labour party's policy on child benefit ?
Miss Lestor : I think that the hon. Gentleman is getting his women muddled up. I was asked what my views were on universal child benefits. I said that I believed in them. I do believe in them. [Hon. Members :-- "Let him tell us."] With great respect, and the affection that I have for my hon. Friend, it is not his debate. It is mine, and I am making my speech. Therefore, I will not ask him to get up and participate in the debate.
Miss Lestor : I happen to believe that families matter. I happen to believe that children matter. Conservative Members are showing the country at large how little they care about children and about families. If they could see the stupid grins on their faces, which will be on their television screens, they might like to take notice of the fact that many of the people whom we are here to represent are suffering under the Government, and that their children are suffering. I hope to hear from some Conservative Members positive policies to do something about it.
No doubt the Secretary of State for Health will refer to the major advances made as a result of the Children Act 1989. I and all of us were great supporters of the Children Act. What a pity, however, that such a potential for good should be undermined by lack of appropriate funding. Unfortunately, many of the safeguards in the Children Act 1989, particularly those aspects dealing with preventive work, have been underfunded, as any social services department will confirm. It is no surprise that a Government so dominated by short termism should be panicked into producing over-the-top, ineffective and inappropriate statements. Media reactions to social issues say more about the ignorance of Ministers and their superficial grasp of the issues than anything else.
The International Year of the Family presents us with a golden opportunity to take stock of how effectively the Government support families. The organisation co-ordinating events during this year has identified three main areas of concern, which I commend to Ministers : families