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Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East) : I shall not explore the matter of the wrong gender with the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). However, let me be the first to congratulate him on having scored a notable triumph in this debate : he persuaded the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), a former Secretary of State for Transport, to intervene in his speech to admit to the shortcomings of the transport infrastructure which serves the constituency of Basildon.
The hon. Member for Basildon confidently condemned the "two socialist parties" for selling out Britain. I am not sure which two socialist parties he was referring to--perhaps he could write to me about that later. Despite the terrible sell-out which he condemned, he was only able to "hope" to hold the European seat in which his constituency is situated. On the old boundaries, I see that the Conservative party enjoyed a majority of 9,500 in what many people believe was a good year for the Labour party. I accept that the boundaries have changed, and perhaps that is the only reason why the hon. Gentleman can only hope to retain the seat.
A number of important matters have been raised in this debate. The debate was started by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who is a long-standing champion of people with disabilities. He criticised--he is not the only person to do so--the Government's attitude to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. I strongly endorse what he said.
My right hon. Friend said that parliamentary counsel had drafted amendments which were intended not for the Committee but for the Floor of the House. The amendments were intended not to improve the Bill in Committee but to delay the Bill on Report, so that it could never come into law. That is bad enough ; it is not the way in which we should proceed in the House.
Initially, Ministers denied that civil servants had been instructed to assist with the subterfuge, and Government Back Benchers denied that they had been helped by civil
Column 383servants. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) raised an important new point. He referred to Hansard and the phrase which suggested that the Government were "properly using every opportunity to ensure that it"
"reaches the statute book."--[ Official Report , 29 April 1994 ; Vol. 242, c. 514.]
If the phrase was intended to be interpreted in that way, it would have involved misleading the House further, because it is perfectly clear to everyone who has followed the issue that the Government did not want the Bill on the statute book, or at least not in the form in which it was presented to the House.
If the Government have concerns about the public expenditure aspect of a Bill, or about the extra burden that could be placed on the private sector, it is right that they should express them in Committee and table amendments in Committee to deal with them. It cannot be right to proceed by subterfuge, which is what they have effectively done in this instance. It looks very much as if they have done the same with other private Members' Bills.
I have twice called for a full debate on the principles involved in this matter, and I ask the Leader of the House again tonight to consider holding such a debate on the Floor of the House, so that we can, I hope, reach a conclusion that will enhance the House's reputation and ensure that we do not have to proceed by subterfuge. I agree with the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), in relation to the sad and disgraceful state of affairs in the former Yugoslavia, that what is morally wrong can never be politically right. I think that his remarks found an echo in every part of the House, as did those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe when he spoke about the rights of people with disabilities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) managed very easily to follow the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South. We all condemn ethnic cleansing and the horrors of warfare in Yugoslavia and in Rwanda.
My hon. Friend also mentioned some procedural matters that are currently under discussion. There is, of course, a willingness in all, or in many, parts of the House to debate the Jopling report and to proceed, I hope, by consensus to implement those parts of it which find favour with the House.
Clearly, the way in which Members of Parliament are expected to work has changed over the years. If we are not here, it is usually not because we are on holiday, but because we have to deal with constituency business and participate in the wider affairs of the nation, not only those parts of the nation's business which are reflected in this debating Chamber.
In debating the Jopling report, we have to get right the balance between the rights of the governing party and those of the Opposition and, separately, that between the interests of the Executive and the House of Commons. I am sure that it is possible to do so and to make progress on the report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) drew the House's attention to a peculiar dispute, which is not of his making, in which he is engaged with the Secretary of State for Health. The Secretary of State said something incorrect about my hon. Friend. The simple way
Column 384to deal with the problem is for her to correct the record. I make this simple plea to the Leader of the House : will he get in touch with his right hon. Friend and ask her to set the record straight before the matter acquires a disproportionate significance ? The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery), with whom I pair when we are allowed to pair--and with whom I do not pair when we are not allowed to pair--mentioned the dependency culture that is developing in Alderley Edge. It is clearly a sign of the times that a dependency culture is developing there, and it should be a matter of concern for the whole House. He pleaded for affordable housing, and those who know Alderley Edge will of course be sympathetic to that plea.
My hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) made a powerful contribution to our debate, drawing on his experience as a former director of RE-SOLV, the society for the prevention of solvent abuse. I was not aware that there are three deaths a week from solvent abuse, and my hon. Friend was right to draw this important matter to our attention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) continued the two campaigns for which he is rapidly becoming nationally famous. The first, against wheel-clamping cowboys, continues apace, and the second centres on the Child Support Agency. I am sure that his remarks on the latter topic will command support from members of all parties. I have twice asked the Leader of the House at business questions to find time for a debate on the CSA. Many of the concerns raised about its operation are not raised in a political partisan way, and they require a response.
Incidentally, my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) intervened to draw attention to the way in which officials, especially agency officials, are using confidentiality as an excuse to avoid dealing with the inquiries made by Members of
Parliament--inquiries often made on behalf of the very person whose confidentiality is supposedly being protected.
If a constituent has asked his Member of Parliament to take up his case, it follows that he has asked his Member of Parliament to represent his interests, and that includes dealing with confidential matters. If a constituent says that his Member of Parliament can have access to confidential information, the Member of Parliament should certainly be provided with it. If he is not, he cannot do his job properly.
I conclude by returning to what my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North said. He said that all Members of Parliament, especially those in the Opposition parties, could draw on constituency experience when talking about unemployment. Swan Hunter shipyard in Newcastle is still in receivership, and time is running out for it. The Government could save the yard--a smaller, leaner and more efficient operation, but still employing 1,000 people--if they committed the Sir Bedivere warship order to Swan Hunter, and by the stated time of June or July.
If the Lord President wants to send me off happy for the recess, will he draw the plight of the yard to the Prime Minister's attention and secure a decision, preferably one in our favour ? It is a matter of life and death for Swan Hunter.
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The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I acknowledge the last remarks of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown). It is my ambition, as ever, to send everyone off happy for the Whitsun recess, but I suspect that such a feat is beyond my powers. Indeed, I had some difficulty this afternoon in persuading a number of people that it was desirable to add a day to the Whitsun recess because of the Euro-elections. That is perhaps a good illustration of the difficulties involved in pleasing all the people--or all Members of Parliament--all the time.
This is not a complaint but, with eight minutes to go, I have the usual breathless task of attempting to deal with the problems of the entire world. Inevitably, I shall not be able to do so, so I had better make it clear at the outset that, if I am unable to respond to all hon. Members' comments, they will be passed on to the quarters to which they were sometimes directed and will be taken note of by my colleagues, just as I have taken note of them as they have been made.
Two refrains have echoed throughout the debate. The first concerns the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which was mentioned first by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and later in various ways by a number of other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).
I think that the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe used the word "skulduggery" in relation to what happened on Friday. If the word were really apt--I do not think it is--it would presumably also have to be applied to the actions of, I think, members of his own party who blocked a Bill which was important for the Scottish inshore fishing industry, and which had beneficial fishing and environmental implications, and the fairly wide-ranging Sale and Supply of Goods Bill, which was important to consumers across the country. I simply make those points. I do not think that his word was appropriate and I think that what I have just said should be acknowledged.
That said, I really do not think that I am in a position now, any more than I was at business questions earlier, to add significantly to a number of points that I made on earlier occasions about the various matters that were mentioned this afternoon, although I should like to refer to what the hon. Member for Workington said. The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe acknowledged that my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, was inquiring into the procedures applying to private Members' Bills, and my right hon. Friend has specifically assured me during the debate that he would very much welcome suggestions that Members care to put to him in writing of such improvements as they feel could be made.
I think that that is the right way now to approach the matter, along with the Government's firm and repeated intention to consult widely on a range of proposals in five important fields relating to disabled people, as a way of making constructive, workable progress now, which is what everyone on both sides of the House wants. That is what we should now concentrate on.
In answer to the hon. Member for Workington's remarks about Madam Speaker's ruling on the privilege issue, I am obviously not in a position to interpret--nor indeed should I attempt to interpret--what was in Madam
Column 386Speaker's mind, although I have no reason whatever to suppose that it was considerations of the type that the hon. Gentleman suggested. The clear impression that I have--I think that I had better place this on the record, even at the risk of interpreting Madam Speaker's position--is that she regarded the Minister of State's clear-cut personal statement with an unreserved apology to the House as bringing that specific aspect to an appropriate end. It remains my view that the House should now accept my right hon. Friend's apology in the clear-cut way in which it was given and in the spirit in which it was given. No doubt the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, who was here during the hon. Gentleman's remarks, will consider what he said about the privilege issue, as no doubt will Madam Speaker. The second refrain that has echoed through speeches from both sides of the House was the issue of the Child Support Agency, which came up in the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) and for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery)--no debate of this type would be complete without my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale--and of the hon. Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar).
They know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others have repeatedly said that they are continuing to keep the operation of that agency under review. It is easy to dismiss those as simply routine words, but I believe them accurately to reflect the spirit in which Ministers are approaching those matters, and I am sure that they will bear in mind the various arguments that my hon. Friends and others have made in the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), who courteously apologised to me for the fact that he would have to be out of the Chamber for a while, made, in his usual courteous and considered way, his appeal for a debate on Bosnia, and emphasised his continuing views of the importance of that. I continue to take note of what he says, as I always seek to do.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) made several important arguments, on which I would quite like to have spent a little time, including some remarks about employment. It is worth placing on record, however, the fact that, in the year to March, the Employment Service placed more than 1.5 million unemployed people in jobs, including the better part of 500,000 who had been out of work for six months or more, and more than 50,000 people with disabilities. Therefore, the notion that the situation is not improving, and that the Government are not putting great effort into it, would be far-fetched indeed.
There is perhaps a further echo--I have just heard it repeated slightly by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) and it also came from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe)--about the channel tunnel rail link. I was grateful for some of the things that they said, and less grateful for others. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent that I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who has just come into the Chamber, who is extremely puzzled about some of his observations, but has undertaken to study them with care. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) made some observations about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, which, I have to say, appeared to me to have the flavour of looking at a molehill
Column 387through a magnifying glass. I hope that I am not diminishing what he said in those ways, but, however one looks at a molehill, it remains a molehill.
Mr. Spearing indicated dissent .
Mr. Newton : I will bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend. As he acknowledged, he has already had some comments from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health, but I will certainly ensure that my right hon. Friend reconsiders carefully what she said, because I manifestly accept that he believes it to be a significant and important point and continues to regard it as a matter of anxiety.
Mr. Spearing indicated assent .
I do not think, Madam Speaker, that I shall have time to comment on the other speeches. However, I acknowledge the courteous and thoughtful way in which the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) referred to my responsibilities in the field of drug abuse and the importance of the solvent aspect, which I will consider with care. With that, I hope that the House will yield to my blandishments and agree that, at its rising on Thursday 26 May, it adjourns until Tuesday 14 June.
It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker-- put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 22 (Periodic Adjournments).
The House divided : Ayes 216, Noes 53.
Division No. 259] [7.05 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas