Monday 4 July----Opposition Day (16th allotted day) There will be a debate on "The Child Support Agency" on an opposition motion. Proceedings on the following Bills, which are consolidation measures : Vehicle Excise and Registration Bill [ Lords ] ; Value Added Tax Bill [ Lords ].
Tuesday 5 July----Remaining stages of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill [ Lords ].
Wednesday 6 July----Remaining stages of the Education Bill [ Lords ].
Motion on the Contracts (Applicable Law) Act 1990 (Amendment) Order.
Thursday 7 July----Opposition Day (17th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled "Meeting Housing Need" on a motion in the name of Plaid Cymru ; and a debate on "Payment of State Benefits to Young People" on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Friday 8 July----Private Members' motions.
Monday 11 July----Opposition Day (18th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced. The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B' will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 6 July to consider European Community document No. 5475/94 relating to trans-European Networks. [Wednesday 6 July :
European Standing Committee B--European Community document : 10635/93, 5475/94 Trans-European Networks. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report : HC 48-xvi (1993-94).]?
Given that there have been no statements from the Government accompanying the summer economic forecast, the league tables from the Secretary of State for Health and the Green Paper on the future of the Post Office, can the Leader of the House confirm that there will be a day's debate in Government time, before the recess, on economic affairs, the national health service and the Post Office respectively ?
I am sure that no hon. Member has overlooked the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has not yet been able to tell us the date of the summer recess. Can he at least tell us when he will be able to tell us the date ? Perhaps we shall be more fortunate next Thursday. For the avoidance of doubt, let me repeat that the request to know the date is not a request for an early departure.
Mr. Newton : Were I to accede to all the requests contained in the hon. Gentleman's first question, the date for the recess would clearly be some time in September. I hope to do rather better than that. My ambition-- I would
Column 946put it no more strongly than that--is to give the House some indication when we are clearer about the progress of business, this time next week.
Similarly, I hope at that time to give the hon. Gentleman a clear indication of the date for the economic debate in which he is particularly interested, and which we certainly expect to have before the recess. I cannot be quite so forthcoming about the national health service and the figures published yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, or, indeed, about the Post Office ; but I should point out that a full statement on the Post Office was made some time ago, well before today's Green Paper was published.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North) : May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the speech made in Bonn yesterday by our right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer ? Will he join me in welcoming that speech ? Does he agree that the ambiguity about the Government's attitude towards the single currency satisfies neither the audience at home nor the audience abroad ? Is it not time that we had a debate to settle our attitude to the single currency ?
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : Returning to the question of the non-statement on the Government's proposals for the Post Office, is it not ridiculous that we had a statement when there was some press speculation earlier, but we do not have a statement when the Green Paper is published ?
There will be a strong sense of disappointment and frustration on both sides of the House that we have not had a statement from the President of the Board of Trade on this important issue. Can we have a debate, are there circumstances in which we might have a paving Bill before next year's Bill ? Would that paving Bill happen before the summer recess ?
Mr. Newton : What has been published today is a Green Paper inviting comments--a consultation document. Clearly there would be no question of producing legislation before the consultation period was over. I understand why the hon. Gentleman asked the earlier part of his question. For whatever reason, a substantial statement was made indicating in general terms the basis on which the Government would be publishing a Green Paper, and I think that there would have been no justification for another statement today.
Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party of all parties should never rewrite or forget history, which is what we did in the mid-1970s when we abolished many ancient and historic counties ? Will my right hon. Friend help to ameliorate some of the confusion that has arisen from the local government boundary review, in which the laudable objective of moving to one-tier authorities has been confused with the Secretary of State's right to cover the map of England in counties, and this time his opportunity to restore all those ancient counties to our land ?
Column 947Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) during Prime Minister's questions. I am sure that that earlier question, together with my hon. Friend's question, will have been heard, noted and inwardly digested by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : If we cannot have the date of the recess, can we have the date of the reshuffle ? Can we have a considered response from the Government next week to the motion moved and carried in this House by the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir. J. Hannam) in relation to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill ? Are not the Government acting contemptuously of that motion ?
Mr. Newton : Of course I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's latter point. There have been many comments by myself and others, most notably by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, on the Government's response to the various points that have been made about that and our intention, which is being pursued now, to develop a range of practicable and workable proposals to advance further the cause of disabled people. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that, were there to be a reshuffle, it is unlikely that he would be involved.
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : Will my right hon. Friend promise an urgent debate next week on industrial relations as it would provide an opportunity for hon. Members on both sides of the House to condemn the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, first, for causing a massive strike on the railway system, secondly for making a pay demand four times the rate of inflation, thirdly for costing the railways £10 million for the strike and fourthly for causing massive disruption and a loss of jobs to many people in the south-east, including my constituency of Dartford ?
Mr. Newton : Were I not conscious of the House's desire for a date for the recess, I should be much tempted by my hon. Friend's suggestion. He admirably, and much more briefly than he could have in a speech in a debate, made a number of telling points.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Has the Leader of the House read your clear ruling two weeks ago, Madam Speaker, on the propriety of Ministers at the Dispatch Box asking questions of Opposition Members at the Dispatch Box ? Has the right hon. Gentleman discussed the matter with the Prime Minister, who, in reply to Question 1 today, did precisely that ? Will the Leader of the House make a statement on what Ministers' practice will be in the future ? Will your ruling be upheld ?
Mr. Newton : The question of your ruling is a matter for you, Madam Speaker, as I imagine you would agree. I read and, indeed, heard what you said some time ago--as, no doubt, did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I heard nothing this afternoon that was incompatible with that.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate next week on the decision in the Manchester High Court to make two lesbian women legal parents of a child, bearing in mind the damage to the child concerned and to society, which is based on proper family life, where children are entitled to a parent of both sexes and where lesbians do not conceive children in the circumstance that applied in this case ?
Mr. Newton : I well understand why my hon. Friend has raised the point, but I hope that he will understand that I am reluctant to comment from the Dispatch Box on a court judgment that I have not had an opportunity to study. The case is sensitive and involves a number of people, including the child.
Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford) : Will the Leader of the House assure us that a statement will be made before the summer recess on the outcome of the present secret talks on the future of Northern Ireland between Her Majesty's Government and the Dublin Government ?
Mr. Newton : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland continues to pursue, in an appropriate way, means of carrying forward the process of seeking to bring peace to Northern Ireland. He always makes a statement to the House when he thinks it appropriate to do so.
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : As the sixth British soldier has been killed in Bosnia this week, and as The Times reports that the ceasefire in central Bosnia has broken down, will my right hon. Friend allow another debate on the matter before the House rises, so that hon. Members may have an opportunity to express their opinion on whether they wish this country to be sucked further into a Balkan civil war ?
Mr. Newton : I regret that I cannot promise such a debate if I am to fulfil the hopes about the recess that are being pressed on me from various quarters. My hon. Friend has made a serious point, and I regard it as my duty to ensure that the implicit thrust of his question is drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : Will the Leader of the House consider the questions that I have tabled to the Department of Transport about road safety ? Will he find time next week for the House to debate the fact that one in three coaches and large vehicles that were stopped were found to have defective brakes, and many of them had defective steering ? At a time when a sad inquest is taking place, it will concern every parent in this country that we are not debating such road transport matters.
Mr. Newton : I have not had an opportunity to study the hon. Lady's questions, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will consider with great care the questions and the issues that she raised.
Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup) : In view of questions already asked, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he and his colleagues will resist any attempts to revert to forms of local government that, more than 20 years ago, were already declared out of date by a royal commission and by other inquiries, including our own in the party, and that instead, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will continue to move forward to secure a form of local government that will meet the needs of our fellow citizens as we go into the 21st century ?
Column 949general requirements. It has to be said, I fear, that not everyone is agreed on what the requirements mean when they are translated into actual proposals.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Following on from that, if we had such a statement or debate, would it not make sense for the Government to drop this whole review of local government and get on to the problems that really affect people in the shires, the towns and the cities--to start building houses, to repair the schools and to rebuild the welfare state, instead of pottering about with boundaries ? In 1974 it was a mess, and the Government did the same with the hospitals. The present review will create the same sort of havoc, and it will cost more than £1 billion. Use the money to help the people instead of shifting the boundaries.
Mr. Newton : If I may take it as a request for a statement next week, Madam Speaker, my answer is that I cannot promise that ; I simply make the observation that I can think of a number of places--although I am not sure that I would wish to have their names dragged from me at the Dispatch Box--where reform in local authority structures might improve the application of policies in exactly the areas that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his inability to give the date of the recess today significantly underlines the need for reform of our parliamentary hours ? Will he say how his negotiations on that subject are going ? Is he aware that most continental Parliaments have already adjourned, or will do so over the coming week ? I am not making a personal plea, because my children are grown up, but this is a fairly young Parliament, and many Members have young children. It is grossly unfair to them to have to sit on late into July.
Mr. Newton : I do not think that negotiations about hours can necessarily remove all the difficulties and uncertainties at certain times of the parliamentary year, but the answer to my hon. Friend's underlying question is that my talks with the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) have proved constructive and are being carried forward, but of course there are several difficult issues to be teased out.
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South) : The Leader of the House will have seen the written answer last Monday to my question about minerals planning guidance. There was a promise that the new guidance note will be published before the recess. Will the Minister make certain that there will be the opportunity to debate it, if not before the recess then as soon as we reassemble ? The debate on the Coal Industry Bill showed that there is considerable interest in opencasting on both sides of the House.
Column 950unclear about our position on the single currency. In a spirit of helpfulness, I wonder whether we might have a debate on that matter, so that we can express our own clarity to clear up their unclarity.
Mr. Newton : I take it that that is the same spirit of helpfulness as that displayed by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), and I think that I shall rest on the answer that I gave him.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Will the Leader of the House give a guarantee that there will be a full and proper debate in the House if the Secretary of State for Social Security decides to introduce the so-called habitual residency test in connection with social security benefits ?
Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester) : Will my right hon. Friend consider an urgent debate on employment issues, not only in the light of the good employment news from the city of Chester, where unemployment fell last year by 6 per cent., and has fallen by 35 per cent. since six years ago, but to tease out the views of the Opposition, who advocate full employment, in stark contrast to policies that the OECD has defined as likely to increase unemployment ? May we have an urgent debate on that issue ? The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East did not ask for a debate, but I would certainly welcome one.
Mr. Newton : So, I think, would many people, because I am glad to say that the fall in unemployment is not confined to the city of Chester. As it happens, although the Opposition spokesman did not ask specifically for a debate on employment and unemployment, those subjects would certainly be embraced in the debate on economic issues that he requested, and that I have promised. I hope that my hon. Friend will make those points during that debate.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : In support of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) who asked for a debate on road transport, may I ask the Leader of the House whether he has observed the questions that have been tabled about the new danger posed by bull bars --a new fashion which people are fixing on the front of their Land Rover cars ?
Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed that the Department of Transport has said that, if a child is hit at 20 mph by a Land Rover without a bull bar, the child will probably just be injured, but that, if a child is hit at 10 mph by a Land Rover with a bull bar, the accident will almost certainly be fatal ? May we not have a debate so that we can banish this new and terrible safety hazard, which is only a fashion accessory and serves virtually no real purpose ?
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the draft declaration for the G7 summit in Naples yet again calls on the United Nations conference on population and development, which will take place in Cairo this September, to come up with a solution to the world's population problem ? Is he aware that the conference will have 18,000 delegates, which
Column 951makes it every bit as big as the Rio summit two years ago, on which my right hon. Friend allowed not one but two debates in the House ? Will he consider even a short debate before the House rises for the summer ?
Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend has consistently taken a serious and proper interest in these matters, and the conference he describes is obviously a substantial event. I cannot promise a debate before the recess, but in the serious spirit in which the point has been raised, I tell my hon. Friend that I shall look carefully to see whether there is any possibility of a debate at some appropriate time.
[ That this House welcomes the publication of the consultation paper Late Payment of Commercial Debt, as announced 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 remind the right hon. Gentleman that, despite repeated rhetoric from Ministers, no action has been taken on the early-day motion or on the issue of late payments by big industries to small businesses, which causes problems not only for my constituents, but for people throughout the country.
Given that more than 300 hon. Members from both sides of the House have signed the early-day motion, which calls for statutory rights on interest payments, will the Leader of the House ask a Treasury Minister to come to the House to make a statement on why the Government continually refuse to support small businesses on this issue ?
Mr. Newton : I cannot accept that the Government have persistently refused to support small business on the issue. On the contrary, it is an area in which the Government have consistently sought to help, not least by improving the performance of public authorities in dealing with their bills from small businesses. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the difficulties of the issue, of the considerable discussion of it in the recent White Paper on competitiveness and of what it said about how the Government intend to proceed.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) : In view of the recent good news about the significant fall in serious crime in many areas, including my constituency, will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on crime ? The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) might well welcome an opportunity to return to the House where he would, no doubt, like to welcome the news of falling crime.
Such a debate might also give him an opportunity to explain what he means by being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, as his deputy, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), has made it clear this week that the policy does not include sending serious criminals to prison. Would not the hon. Member for
Column 952Sedgefield welcome the opportunity to come to the House to rebut the growing suspicion that his policy is a lot of meaningless and misleading waffle ?
Mr. Newton : I think that a number of people would welcome some sight in the House of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), and they would certainly welcome some explanation that went beyond, or beneath, the generalisations that he utters everywhere else about precisely what his policies are. Unhappily, I cannot promise a debate, not least because, in the wake of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, we seem to have had quite enough time to debate these matters in recent months.
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) : Will the Leader of the House pay some attention to the report issued today in Nottinghamshire about the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Leanne White ? Will the right hon. Gentleman also look at the growth in pressure on social workers who are dealing with child protection matters, with the intention of making a statement to the House, and perhaps providing time for a debate on the growth in the number and the severity of demands in child care cases and the growing gap between those demands and resources available to deal with them ?
Mr. Newton : From my experience as child care Minister on two occasions, I know of the pressures and problems which can affect workers in that field, so I certainly would not dismiss in any way the hon. Gentleman's question. While I cannot promise a debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who, of course, has responsibility for those matters, will be here next Tuesday.
[ That this House notes that Railtrack in making an offer of 5.7 per cent., to restore the relativities of signalling staff grades' pay at its meeting with RMT on 7th June, effectively accepted the Union's argument that before any future discussions on productivity, it was necessary to compensate the signalling staff for their past productivity ; also notes that it is clear that it is only because of outside interference from Government sources that this offer was withdrawn and, whilst insufficient to meet the signalling staff's honest aspirations, the 5 per cent. offer did lay the basis for negotiation, and therefore, the full responsibility for the current disruption of rail services must lie with the Government ; therefore believes that the only proper solution to this dispute, is for the Government to stop their interference, and for Railtrack to reopen discussion on the basis of their original position that past productivity gains by signalling staff deserve compensation ; and affirms its support for striking RMT members in their attempt to attain fair and honest treatment. ]
More than 51 Labour Members support the strike action of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, which has caused such disruption to commuters in my constituency. In the light of that, has my right hon. Friend received a request from those on the Opposition Front Bench for a Supply day debate on that strike ? If not, is that because they are trying to protect the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who will not come out and say what he thinks about the strike ? If they are not prepared to
Column 953have a debate on the matter, may we have one, so that Conservative Members can state our strong opposition to this greedy strike ?
Mr. Newton : That is another request from my hon. Friend, to which I would very much wish to accede if I felt that it were practicable to make such time available. The one thing on which we can all agree is that there is not the slightest chance of the Opposition seeking a Supply day on the matter, since it would expose their division and the extent to which implicitly--and, in some cases, explicitly--they support that irresponsible strike.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Reference has already been made to some decisions of 20 years ago. Will the Leader of the House give a commitment that, when the issue of Northern Ireland and the way in which it is governed comes up again, we shall have more than an hour and a half for debate, bearing in mind the exchanges in the House on Tuesday night ? As the epitome of modern democracy, we would like to think that Westminster sets a standard.
May I also add that next week is Alzheimer's awareness week ? I trust that there shall be an opportunity for the House to recognise it.
Mr. Newton : I am acutely conscious of the problems caused by Alzheimer's disease, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and I am glad that he has managed to mention those problems in the House in such a way. However, he will appreciate that I cannot promise a debate.
On the point about Northern Ireland, I am aware of the concerns which were expressed in the House earlier in the week, although they were against the background of a week in which probably about half the time had been spent debating Northern Ireland matters. Nevertheless, I do not dismiss that concern, and I shall, of course, reflect on the points which have been raised.
Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : I would like to tell my right hon. Friend how much I welcome the fact that we shall be debating the Police and Magistrates' Court Bill on Tuesday, because it will provide an opportunity for the hon. Member for Sedgefield to come to the House of Commons. We have not seen him or heard from him for weeks, and the debate will give him an opportunity to spell out where he stands on a number of key law and order issues. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his personal statement says practically nothing about law and order matters ? He is full of pious platitudes, but they contain precious few policies.
Mr. Newton : With his characteristically vigorous language, my hon. Friend makes a point that I made slightly more gently a few moments ago. I certainly hope that his plea will fall on listening ears.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : At 2.30 today, a report was published by Sir John May relating to the bombings in Guildford in 1974, which affects the position of the Guildford Four. Will there be a chance to discuss that report in the House ? There is considerable interest in the case nationally at the moment, as there is a major film called "In the Name of the Father", which deals with those events and which a number of people believe contains various inaccuracies.
Mr. Newton : I cannot make an immediate promise of an opportunity to discuss that issue, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice made a number of recommendations in that area and, no doubt, at some appropriate time, there may be such an opportunity.
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest) : Would the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week on choice and diversity in education, in which we may warmly welcome this week's announcement that there will be more grammar-school places in the country ? We may also ask why the Labour party, in the House and in local authorities, seems so vindictively to oppose grant-maintained schools, when the hon. Member for Sedgefield and the shadow Chief Secretary seem personally to endorse them for their own children ?
Mr. Newton : The straightforward answer is that I cannot begin to explain that. Unhappily, I cannot see that his presumed appearance on the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill will provide the hon. Member for Sedgefield with an opportunity to explain on that occasion, but we can keep our fingers crossed that some such opportunity might arise.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : In view of the likely escalation of the signalmen's dispute, is the Leader of the House aware that we would welcome a statement from the Government next week ? We would expect, and certainly the public would expect, a positive contribution from the Government to try to resolve the dispute, instead of their mischief- making and union-bashing.
As for the accusation of being greedy, does that not come ill from those on the Tory Benches who have more than one income ? How would they like to compare their total income with that of the signalmen, who are undoubtedly on a low wage and believe that their claim is perfectly justified ? I believe that their claim is justified, and that the Government should help to resolve the dispute.
Mr. Newton : I do not regard the phrase "union-bashing" as a reasonable description of the rejection of a position in which signalmen are demanding an 11 per cent. pay rise with no productivity or restructuring. That is simply not responsible under present circumstances.
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point) : Can my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the recently published national health service performance comparison tables ? The tables are excellent, and will enable standards in all hospitals to be raised to those of the best hospitals. It would give me an opportunity to debate the capitation funding of hospitals in Essex which fall somewhat short of the capitation funding of hospitals in London.
Mr. Newton : As a fellow Essex Member, I obviously find some difficulty in commenting on that, except to say that, over the years, I have also played my part in pressing things in the right direction. Of course, over the years, significant progress has been made in adjusting the balance in ways that are helpful to areas of rising population. As my hon. Friend will know, that process is continuing.
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) : Can the Leader of the House find time next week for a statement on the Post Office, especially as the Green Paper has been dished out to journalists over the road before it is available in the Vote Office for hon. Members ? As a fierce opponent of Post
Column 955Office privatisation, may I nevertheless applaud the lemming-like determination of the President of the Board of Trade to introduce legislation that will almost certainly be opposed and defeated in the House, not least by his Back Benchers--especially rural Members who know that it would be a disaster to sell off the Post Office-- and it would be electoral suicide for the Conservatives as well ?
Mr. Newton : --but he might be wise to do that before making comments of the sort that he has made. I have already said something about the question of a statement, and I will not add to that. I will certainly inquire into the position that he describes about copies in the Vote Office.