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House of Commons

Thursday 17 November 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Business of the House

2.34 pm

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton): Madam Speaker, as the House is aware, thdebate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech will be brought to a conclusion on Wednesday 23 November and you have already kindly announced from the Chair the intended subjects of the days' debates in the intervening period.

The business for the three days following the conclusion of the debate on the humble address will be as follows:

Thursday 24 November----Motion on standing orders relating to deregulation.

Motion to take note of EC document Nos. 10904/93, 8618/94 and 8037/94 relating to two and three-wheeled vehicles. Details will be given in the Official Report .

Motion on an order relating to the salaries of Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and Opposition Whips in each House, and the Officers of both Houses.

Friday 25 November----Debate on road safety on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Monday 28 November----Second Reading of the European Communities (Finance) Bill.

Motion to take note of documents relating to the 1995 budget of the European Communities. Details will be given in the Official Report .

[Thursday 24 November:

Relevant European Community documents: a) 10904/93 Two and Three Wheeled Motor Vehicles, b) 8618/94 Two and Three Wheeled Motor Vehicles, c) 8037/94 Two and Three Wheeled Motor Vehicles; relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: a) HC 48-vii (1993-94) and HC 48-xvi (1993-94), b) and c) HC 48-xxvii (1993-94)

Monday 28 November:

Relevant European Community documents: a) COM(94)400 1995 Budget, b) 8782/94 1995 Budget, c) 9943/94 Adjustment of the financial perspective with a view to enlargement of the European Union, d) Unnumbered-European Parliament's proposed amendments and modifications to the draft general budget for 1995; relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: a) HC 48-xxiii (1993-94), b) HC 48-xxvi (1993-94), c) No report, d) No report.

Mrs. Taylor: I thank the Leader of the House for his announcement. I start by expressing concern which is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that it will soon be possible to have a debate on

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implementing the recommendations of the Jopling report. Can the Leader of the House tell us when such a debate might take place? As the Leader of the House has announced that the Second Reading of the European Communities (Finance) Bill will be on Monday 28 November, will he tell us today whether that vote will be a vote of confidence in the Government? If the Prime Minister loses that vote, will there be a general election?

Mr. Newton: On the first half of the hon. Lady's comments, may I express my thanks to her for continuing to conduct our discussions about Jopling in the same positive and constructive way as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) did in his acting capacity. The hon. Lady and I share hopes about making progress. I cannot give an exact date, but I think she will agree with me--indeed, from her comments it is clear that she agrees with me--that our discussions are moving positively.

On the second issue, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear yesterday that the Second Reading of the Bill is in itself an issue of confidence. Both of us have made it clear on several occasions that the consequences of losing on an issue of confidence are clear and well known.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East): Will the Leader of the House reconsider the decision to hold that debate on 28 November, given that the Court of Auditors report, which is relevant to the Bill, is still not available in the Vote Office, although it was published at a champagne reception on Monday and is available--in the French language only--at Heathrow airport? Will he further give us an assurance that he will reconsider the matter until such time as we have an authoritative statement on whether the statement in The Daily Telegraph that it had a Treasury document which said that the actual figures were four times as great as the Government's is true, untrue or a load of rubbish?

Mr. Newton: On the latter point, I thought that the answer of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) yesterday afternoon was absolutely clear and straightforward. Indeed, it was so clear and

straightforward that the hon. Gentleman was, for once, left nonplussed.

As for the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I will immediately inquire into what he has said.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): As there is nothing explicit in the Queen's Speech to deal with the important reforms introduced to cover community care, and as we recognise that some parts of the country, including the Isle of Wight, Devon and Gloucestershire, are experiencing serious difficulties in implementing the new reforms, will the Leader of the House undertake to have a debate in Government time so that those and other areas can confront some of their difficulties and get some answers from the Government about how they might be resolved?

Mr. Newton: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has already commented on those matters in various ways. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that nothing in the Queen's Speech touches on the issues

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raised by community care. There is a clear- cut proposal for a Bill to deal with supervised discharge in the mental health field.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives): When can the House expect a debate on the important report by Lord Donaldson, given recent events, especially the Estonia tragedy, and other matters of grave concern where maritime safety is involved?

Mr. Newton: I shall simply undertake to bear my hon. Friend's legitimate concern in mind. I am not in a position to give a date for a debate this afternoon.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Bearing in mind the fact that next Sunday is the 20th anniversary of the mass murder of 21 people in Birmingham, will the Leader of the House promise that we will be kept fully informed of the peace process? I tabled early-day motion No. 28 on the subject.

[ That this House notes that it is 20 years since the mass killings of 21 people in Birmingham as a result of terrorist violence; deplores that such an atrocity occurred and again extends its deepest sympathy to the relatives of those murdered and also to all those injured; and strongly hopes that the present cessation of violence by the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland will be permanent and thus ensure that such an atrocity as took place in Birmingham as well as the killings in many other places both in Northern Ireland itself and Great Britain will never occur again. ]

Despite what may happen in Dublin, is it not absolutely necessary for the House to be kept informed of what is happening to that process? At the same time, is it not important to ensure that the process is permanent so that never again will people be murdered in any part of the United Kingdom as a result of terrorist violence coming from Northern Ireland?

Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman knows well of, and shares, the Government's determination to make progress in the peace process and to bring about the situation that he would like to see. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will report to the House as they think appropriate. I am also sure that the House will share the hope that political developments in Dublin will not affect the peace process.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam): Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate following the press conference that Gerry Adams gave in the Houses of Parliament today, in which he was extremely evasive about his willingness to co-operate with the British Government on giving up weapons? Does my right hon. Friend agree that a full debate, during which hon. Members on both sides would be very supportive of the importance of banning those weapons, is essential? Otherwise, a cruel trick will have been played on the people of Northern Ireland, who crave permanent peace.

Mr. Newton: Although I understand my hon. Friend's point, she will understand that it is not long since the House had the opportunity to debate Northern Ireland

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matters in the spillover period after the summer recess. I cannot promise a debate in the near future, but I will bear her legitimate request in mind.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): Will the Leader of the House make arrangements for a statement to be made next week dealing with recent developments in the study of sudden infant deaths? Will he bear in mind the fact that some of us raised the matter years ago and were told that no dangerous substance was involved, yet scientists had not been given the task of undertaking proper research and, above all, pathologists had not examined the babies' tissues?

Mr. Newton: I cannot promise a statement, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will study carefully what has been suggested in recent days. I shall draw her attention to his remarks.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point): In view of the deep concern with which my constituents view the plans of the Liberal and Labour-controlled Essex council to sell off part of Hadleigh junior school playing fields, will my right hon. Friend consider a debate in which Government policy on the sale of school playing fields could be brought forward?

Mr. Newton: Although I cannot promise a debate, I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will consider carefully my hon. Friend's remarks. The Government have shown in various ways that they attach considerable importance to sport in schools and want local education authorities--of whatever colour, frankly--to study carefully such proposals against that background.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): In the light of the fact that Lord Archer--whom I am required to describe as noble--has got away with £80,000 on an insider trading deal, is not it about time that Parliament reconsidered insider trading legislation so that people who commit offences can be charged with them and prosecuted successfully?

Mr. Newton: I do not think that either you, Madam Speaker, or the House would expect me to follow the hon. Gentleman, either in the terms in which he referred to the noble Lord, or in some of the remarks and accusations which followed, and I do not propose to do so.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I am sure that my right hon. Friend would agree that the success of the national lottery depends crucially on the confidence that the British people have in the method of distribution, particularly of the Millennium Fund. Will he therefore arrange for an early debate so that we can review the progress made so far, and thereafter ensure that we have an annual debate on the national lottery?

Mr. Newton: There is some tension between the point made by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor)--to some assent from the House--about making progress on Jopling, and continual demands for additional debates of one kind or another, whether annual or otherwise. I do not think that I would want to excite too many hopes in that direction. I shall, of course, consider whether it will be possible to have a debate on the huge success of the national lottery, and associated matters.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): Will the Leader of the House confirm that the European Communities

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(Finance) Bill to be debated on Monday week is being promoted under article 201 of the current treaty which gives national parliaments the treaty power to say no if they wish? Is he aware that the report of the Select Committee on European Legislation on Commission proposal 9298/93--the instrument for the new financial structure --noted that the Paymaster General had stated that, in some respects, the proposal did not accord with the agreement at Edinburgh? Will the right hon. Gentleman now assure the House either that it is in the accord, or that the differences will be made clear before the debate on Monday week?

Mr. Newton: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of the Bill is to implement the Edinburgh accord on European Community finance, and I will draw his comments to the attention of the Paymaster General.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South): My right hon. Friend will be aware that many of my constituents work for British Aerospace. He may not be surprised that I am keen to know whether there is likely to be an opportunity for an early debate to consider the competitive position of Britain's defence procurement industry, with particular reference to the two bids received for VSEL. Will there be such an opportunity?

Mr. Newton: There are certainly likely to be early opportunities to raise those matters, which is not quite what my hon. Friend asked for. First, there is a debate embracing defence matters today; secondly, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will be answering questions next Tuesday; and, thirdly, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will be answering questions next Wednesday.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Can the Leader of the House tell us exactly what the Government mean about the debate on the European Community budget a week on Monday in respect of the Government losing the vote? If the vote is lost, will he tell us that the Government will not table a motion of confidence the following day to try to save their bacon? If the Government are saying that a defeat on the European budget proposals is final, that should be the end of it. Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that there will not be a vote of confidence the following day?

Mr. Newton: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it crystal clear yesterday that the Bill is seen as an issue of confidence. I have said elsewhere that I do not anticipate that the scenario painted by the hon. Gentleman will be followed by a vote of confidence of the kind to which he refers. I have also made clear elsewhere, as have others, that the normal and natural consequence of losing a vote on an issue of confidence-- although these are matters for the Prime Minister and for the monarch-- would be that the Prime Minister would ask for a dissolution, and that the Queen would grant it.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): May we have a debate next week on the chaotic situation which now surrounds the export of live animals for slaughter overseas with a view to having animals properly slaughtered at home and exported on the hook, rather than on the hoof?

Mr. Newton: My hon. Friend, with his persistent and dedicated pursuit of the interests of animals, knows well that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture,

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Fisheries and Food and, indeed, his predecessors, have persistently fought in Europe for improvements in conditions, and will continue to do so.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish): Given the enthusiasm of the Leader of the House for Jopling, can he explain why did he not take the opportunity today to announce the business for the next fortnight? That would have been a good precedent to set, especially since we can almost all work it out. Which of the Bills in the Queen's Speech will be subject to the special procedure of the Select Committee so that we can exercise proper scrutiny over them, or does the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of Jopling simply confer benefits on the Government at the expense of Back Benchers?

Mr. Newton: If the latter were the case I would not have gone to so much trouble to discuss things with the Opposition and with the minority parties--

Mr. Bennett: What about Back Benchers?

Mr. Newton: --seeking to take into account the interests of all in the House. I have repeatedly acknowledged that the interests of hon. Members must be taken into account when considering Jopling. On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, perhaps we had better await the signing, sealing and, I hope, delivering of a complete understanding on Jopling, but I do not think that I would be giving any secrets away if I said that the day immediately following the business that I have announced, Tuesday 29 November, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer expects to open his Budget.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): May I, for probably the first time, endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett)? I agree that, at this time of the year, it should be possible to announce the full business for the fortnight and to know the Whip on both sides, so that we know where we are.

What stage have we reached with linking ourselves to the information super- highway? That is another development on which our Parliament seems so far behind the rest of the world.

Mr. Newton: I will draw the latter part of my hon. Friend's question to the attention of the Chairman of the Information Committee--I am happy that it is not my direct responsibility--who shares my hon. Friend's enthusiasm.

On the first half of my hon. Friend's question, since I now seem to be engaged in a peculiarly helpful operation to the House in response to questions, I can say that after my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has opened his Budget on 29 November there will be a debate on the Budget on the Wednesday and Thursday.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth): The Leader of the House will be aware that the clerk to the Select

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Committee on European Legislation has been allocated extra duties. Will the right hon. Gentleman re-examine this?

Madam Speaker: Order. That is not a matter for the Leader of the House. The hon. Gentleman might like to come to see me about it.

Mr. Enright: I am grateful.

Mr. Newton: I am even more grateful to have you, Madam Speaker, doing the work.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham): Is my right hon. Friend surprised that no one has yet asked him if we can have a specific debate on the colossal amount of fraud in the European Union? Far from debating whether we should pay increased sums, should we not now be debating whether all cheques to the European Union should be stopped forthwith until it puts its house in order?

Mr. Newton: The question might not have been put in that specific form, but I rather thought that that was what my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) was getting at. Of course, there will be a number of opportunities to debate such matters, which everyone in Her Majesty's Government will welcome, because the United Kingdom Government were at the forefront of instigating the report from the Court of Auditors and pursuing the issue of fraud in the Community.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): Following the question from the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), I, too, demand an early debate on the report of Lord Donaldson, entitled "Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas". It was published in May and the then Secretary of State for Transport promised hon. Members a debate on it this year. The Leader of the House should be aware that many unsafe and uninsured factory ships from eastern European countries, which constitute a serious danger to human life and the marine environment, operate in Scottish waters. We need that debate.

Mr. Newton: I cannot add to what I said to my hon. Friend earlier, although I am aware of the concern about that. Perhaps I should have said earlier, however, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is due to answer questions next Monday, so the hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity then.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest): May I raise the esoteric but important subject of the licensing of herbal medicines, about which I have had a great deal of correspondence recently? Is my right hon. Friend aware that people are concerned that the Government will seek to amend by regulation the Medicines Act 1968 in response to a somewhat ancient EC directive, which will make the licensing of individual herbal medicines prohibitively expensive and thus drive out of business too many practitioners in that growing field of medicine?

Mr. Newton: Of course, I am aware of the concern that has been expressed and have been subject to correspondence on it, as have other hon. Members. As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State for Health made a statement last Friday making it clear that herbal products currently

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exempt from product licensing under section 12 of the Medicines Act will continue to enjoy that exemption under the new legislation that comes into force on 1 January 1995. There was some concern about whether that resolved the question regarding aromatherapy. Those products can be sold without a product licence if they are not medicinal products--that is, if no medicinal claims are made. That will remain the case after 1 January 1995. I hope that my answer reassures both my hon. Friend and those on whose behalf he speaks.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston): Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Transport to place a copy of the marine accidents investigation branch report in the House of Commons Library? May we have a debate on that important issue in the near future?

Mr. Newton: I shall bring the first question to the attention of my right hon. Friend and consider the second myself.

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East): Is the Leader of the House aware of the deep disappointment among thousands of people about the lack of a specific reference to the Child Support Agency in the Queen's Speech? Since the Select Committee on Social Security has now reported on the Child Support Agency, which has always been the last excuse by Ministers for delaying action on that matter, when can we expect a debate and legislation on that important item?

Mr. Newton: Of course, I am aware of the concern expressed about the Child Support Agency. The hon. Gentleman will know that we all welcome the Select Committee's full support for the principles behind the child support scheme. My right hon. Friend and other colleagues in the DSS are currently carefully examining what the Select Committee has said and I am sure that they will come forward with a response at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Will the Leader of the House ask his colleagues in the Department of Health to make a statement on the subject of women who have suffered radiation damage as a result of treatment for cervical cancer? Will he ask his hon. Friends to include in that statement the conduct of health authorities which are withholding information from that extremely hard-pressed group on matters that affect their personal health?

Mr. Newton: I shall certainly bring those concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South): As the Leader of the House is ruling out a statement on cot deaths, will he allow for an early debate on the findings of "The Cook Report" and the failure of the DTI, the Secretary of State for Health and the Chief Medical Officer to take action four years ago on the sale of mattresses that give out toxic gases, which could have avoided possibly hundreds of cot deaths?

Mr. Newton: I hope that any response that I gave earlier was not seen in the dismissive way that the hon. Gentleman implied in his opening remarks. It was certainly not intended like that. I repeat that I am sure that my right hon. Friend and her advisers are looking

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carefully at what has been said and written in recent days, and I shall bring to her attention the hon. Gentleman's remarks as well as the earlier remarks.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): May we have an immediate statement from the Attorney-General about his dilatory approach to the extradition of Father Brendan Smyth? Is the Leader of the House aware that, quite apart from what is happening in Dublin, many people are concerned about the stewardship of that matter by the British Attorney-General, who has let down the police, the children abused and their parents? Is it not time that the Attorney-General made a full and frank statement about his sloppy handling of that matter?

Mr. Newton: The House would not expect me to accept the hon. Gentleman's rather extravagant and over-heated language, but I will certainly undertake to bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend, who, I am sure, will be doing his job with proper diligence in a matter that obviously requires care.

Madam Speaker: I called at least one hon. Member today who came in towards the very end of the Leader's statement. I wish it to be known now, at the beginning of this new Session, as I made it known in the last Session, that it is not my intention to call Members who have not been in their place during an entire statement. Individual Members owe this courtesy to the Minister who is making the statement, and they should be aware that, if they come in late, they cannot expect to catch my eye in future.

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Points of Order

3.1 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I have your help?

Yesterday, I tabled a number of parliamentary questions in connection with the Attorney-General's conduct of the Brendan Smyth case. I cleared the matter of the sub judice rule with the clerk at the Table Office. There was not a sub judice problem. At 9.45 last night, I tabled an early-day motion about the same matter, and it did not appear on the blues this morning. When I inquired why, I was told that it had been taken back to examine whether it was a matter of sub judice. I reiterate that I had already cleared that, earlier in the day. When I asked with whom the matter of whether there was a problem regarding sub judice had been cleared, I was told that it had been referred to the Attorney-General.

I find that unacceptable and breathtaking, and I would like you to inquire into the matter for me, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: I understand that the hon. Gentleman sought to table his motion yesterday evening, and that the Table Office thought it right to make sure that some of the matters canvassed were not sub judice in the Northern Ireland courts. It was not possible to establish the facts last night, after the law courts had closed. I believe that that is the normal, and obviously the sensible, practice. When the Table Office clerks have to establish facts in matters of this kind, they of course have to consult the courts, and their normal point of contact is the office of the Law Officers of the Crown.

I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Member that his motion has now been cleared, and of course it will be printed tomorrow, but I believe that the hon. Gentleman had a genuine point of order to raise, and I am glad that he has done so.

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Second Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:-- Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.-- [Mr. Dunn.]

Question again proposed.

Foreign Affairs and Defence

3.1 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd): The range of British interests in the world is so wide that the holder of my office has a rather hard choice on occasions such as this. He can either scamper hurriedly from subject to subject, country to country, and try to go around the world in 40 minutes, or he can select--and this year I shall select. So I shall not mention, for example, Kashmir, Cyprus, Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Pergau.

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