Monday 16 January----Second Reading of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill.
Tuesday 17 January----Second Reading of the Finance Bill. Wednesday 18 January----Opposition day (1st allotted day). Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on through-ticketing under rail privatisation followed by a debate on access by Spanish and Portuguese fishing vessels to British waters on Opposition motions. Thursday 19 January----Motion on the Legal Aid Advisory Committee (Dissolution) Order.
Motion on the Farm and Conservation Grant (Variation) (No 2) scheme and motion relating to the Farm and Conservation Grant (Amendment) Regulations.
Friday 20 January----Private Members' Bills.
It may also be helpful to the House if I indicate--emphasising that it can be only on a provisional basis and could be subject to change--that the business currently planned for the following week is consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill on Monday 23 January and Wednesday 25 January, with Second Reading of the Disability Discrimination Bill, which is being published today, on Tuesday 24 January. I am not yet in a position, even provisionally, to indicate the business for Thursday 26 January.
I can also tell the House that, following its approval of the motions that I proposed on 19 December, I will be tabling later today a motion providing that the House will not sit on the following Fridays: 10 March, 12 May, 19 May, 26 May, 16 June, 23 June, 7 July and 21 July. As an additional bonus, I can also say that I do not at present expect the House to sit on any Friday in August.
In the shorter term, it will also be for the convenience of the House to learn that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the Easter recess will be from 7 April until 18 April and since 26 May is to be a non-sitting Friday, the House will rise for the Whitsun recess on 25 May and return on 6 June.
I understand that you, Madam Speaker, will be making a statement after business questions about the detailed arrangements for Wednesday morning sittings. The first such sitting will take place on 25 January.
Lastly, the House, particularly those who may serve on the Finance Bill Standing Committee, may like to know that, following discussion and agreement through the usual channels, it will be proposed that the Standing Committee, which has always hitherto sat in the afternoon and evening, and indeed often well into the night, should sit in the morning and afternoon. The spirit of Jopling appears to be spreading.
Column 282thank him for his information about non- sitting Fridays and the recess dates. I understand why the business for the week after next could be given only a provisional basis, but I am sure that it will benefit the House if the Leader of the House continues to give us notice of that kind. Opposition Members accept that that can be done only on such a provisional basis.
As the House has now decided to experiment with and modernise our procedures--we have heard of the benefits of that this afternoon--will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the accountability of Government to Parliament, especially in view of the vast expansion of enabling legislation in recent years?
Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate on one important aspect of the loss of accountability--how the Government can sell off Railtrack, which is worth up to £6 billion of public assets, and which is expected by the public as well as experts to be an unmitigated disaster, without initiating a full debate on that issue in this House? The Leader of the House will be aware that the Opposition have facilitated a debate on Wednesday on one aspect of rail privatisation that is causing great concern --through ticketing. If selling off Railtrack is such a good idea, will the Leader of House guarantee, in Government time, a debate on that issue?
Mr. Newton: I thank the hon. Lady for her generous remarks about the additional bits of my statement. I note what she said, and I am grateful for her recognition of the necessary provisionality. I shall not always be able to be as forthcoming as I have been today, but the very fact that I have been forthcoming today is an earnest of good intentions and my continued willingness to use best endeavours to help the House.
As for the rest of the hon. Lady's questions, at present I certainly have no plans for a debate along the lines that she has suggested. Indeed, I was not entirely sure of the boundaries of the proposed accountability debate. I remind the hon. Lady that Ministers, as the Home Secretary has repeatedly made clear in recent weeks, remain accountable to Parliament for the performance of the agencies which are within the responsibility of their Departments. As for Railtrack, the reason that there will not be a debate of the kind that the hon. Lady suggested is that Parliament passed legislation which did not require such a debate.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North): Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the economic aspects of constitutional change and examine ownership of industry within the United Kingdom, particularly as we can now, apparently, write to Inverkeithing, the address of the shadow Chancellor, for advice on that ownership?
Mr. Newton: I will certainly consider the scope for such a debate, but some fairly extensive exchanges about it--I acknowledge, not amounting to a debate--have taken place in the past few minutes. I am sure that there will be further opportunities to advert to those matters.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): May I add my warm welcome to the progress that the Leader of the House has made in implementing the Jopling proposals? It is a credit to him. The House will find that benefits will flow. Since, following the question of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), and
Column 283if Prime Minister's Question Time today is anything to go by, constitutional reform in relation to devolution is now very much on the public agenda, put there by no less a person than his own Prime Minister, will the Leader of the House recognise that by staging a debate in Government time?
Mr. Newton: Obviously I would always consider such points. Indeed, in the light of the increasing evidence, in exchanges in the House and on radio and television and elsewhere, of the inability of those on the Opposition Front Bench to answer any of the questions that arise from the proposals that they are allegedly floating, there could be merit in such a debate.
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South): Did my right hon. Friend note the significant statement on legal aid made yesterday by the Lord Chancellor, and if so, did he note the promise that a Green Paper is to be issued on the subject? Will my right hon. Friend use his best endeavours to ensure that that happens as soon as possible, accompanied by a statement in the House by a Minister, so that we can raise the question of the continuing injustice to civil litigants who win against legally aided clients yet do not receive their full costs?
Mr. Newton: I know that my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is anxious to publish his Green Paper as soon as possible, and I shall communicate to him my hon. Friend's request that he should do so. The question of a statement can more appropriately be considered nearer the time.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): Why will we discuss the Government's wholly inadequate Bill on discrimination against disabled people on 24 January, although the White Paper was published only this morning and the Bill itself will be published later, when a private Member's Bill--the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which has in the past had almost unanimous support in the House--is not to be discussed until 10 February? That Bill has tremendous support in both Houses of Parliament. Should we not have an opportunity to discuss the major piece of legislation first, rather than the inadequate Government shadow?
Mr. Newton: I propose that the House should debate the Disability Discrimination Bill on 24 January because it is now ready--it is being published today--and it represents the Government's view of the best way to make sensible, practical and realistic progress towards an aim that we all share. We want to get on with that as soon as possible. As for the White Paper and a statement, some weeks ago my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People made a substantial statement covering all those matters, which will be fully fleshed out in the White Paper.
Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne): In connection with the debate later today on child care facilities in the House, in which many of us will be unable to participate because of previous engagements, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many Members on both sides of the House believe that, in the best interests of the child, the most appropriate nursery is one near that child's home and not in the House of Commons, where facilities would not be suitable--
Column 284for some time, and we are grateful to the Leader of the House for arranging it today, but I cannot allow Members to debate it at this stage, during business questions.
Mr. Newton: May I simply say, in the spirit in which I am sure my hon. Friend intended her question to be taken, that I shall be here to listen to the debate, and I note that, unfortunately, she cannot attend. I was aware that she was not very keen on the proposals, and I shall certainly take note of the way in which she phrased her question.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe): Why are we not being allowed to see the Government's Bill on discrimination against disabled people until 4.30 pm today, when its contents are already being widely discussed outside this House? By 4.30, as the right hon. Gentleman must know, most Members will have left for their constituencies until next Monday. Why could we not have had the Bill at 3.30 pm, and was the right hon. Gentleman consulted about the timing of its arrival in the Vote Office?
Mr. Newton: At any rate, so far as I am aware, the arrangements for publishing the Bill are entirely consistent with the normal arrangements for publishing such Bills. Frankly, I do not think it unreasonable to expect Members of Parliament to be here at 4.30 on a Thursday afternoon to attend to matters in which they are interested.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East): May we have a debate next week on the tragic situation in Sweden, whose currency collapsed yesterday and whose Government have today been forced to slash welfare spending, to force up taxation dramatically and to increase interest rates by 7 per cent.? Would it not be helpful for the House to find out why things are so different in nearby Norway, where the currency is strong and the economic indicators are better than ever?
Mr. Newton: In the same spirit with which I approached yesterday's debate, I shall respond to my hon. Essex Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) by saying that I take note of his question.
Mr. Hugh Bayley (York): In view of the Government's repeated commitments from 1989 onwards to the total modernisation of the Kent coastal railway services; and given the decision by the British Railways Board on Monday not to go ahead with any further modernisation after the first tranche of 64 out of 600 trains that had been promised, will the Leader of the House guarantee that the House will have an opportunity to discuss the consequences, both for Kent commuters and for the 750 people who work at the Asea Brown Boveri carriage works in my constituency and who will be out of a job, leaving the country unable to buy these trains in future unless it does so from abroad?
Mr. Newton: The fact is that British Rail has concluded that there was not a commercial case for new trains for the Kent coast before March 1999. Quite apart from the hon. Gentleman's views, I am well aware that
Column 285many of my hon. Friends from Kent do not agree with BR's judgment. The fact is, however, that procurement decisions are for BR. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads is, or was--I am not sure which--this afternoon meeting the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I am sure that they will have an opportunity to express their views at that meeting.
Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak): Can my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the serious problem of overcrowding in offices in Scotland- -particularly at 25 Church street, Inverkeithing? Is it not intolerable that the people who are seeking to force the leader of the Labour party to ditch his plans to reform clause IV should have to share offices with the shadow Chancellor? Cannot something be done about it?
Mr. Newton: I am happy to say that I have no responsibility for the allocation of space in Labour party offices in Scotland. I can say only that it was at the very least an interesting missive which was sent from that office to The Guardian .
[ That this House congratulates all those who have been peacefully protesting about the export of livestock for slaughter from Shoreham; believes that the Government has failed lamentably to end this disgusting trade, or to secure acceptable journey times; condemns the Minister of Agriculture for allowing calves from his own farm to end up in veal crates and believes him to be entirely discredited in respect of farm animal welfare; demands that the Government bans the export of calves destined for veal crates and the import of veal produce in crates; and, if necessary, defends such action in the European Court under the terms of Article 36 of the Treaty of Rome. ]
It concerns the exporting of live calves. Is it not nonsense that veal crates should be banned in this country, yet veal calves are exported and the veal is reimported? If we can achieve an opt-out on something like the social chapter, which large numbers of people in this country wanted, why cannot we get an opt-out on the export of veal calves?
Mr. Newton: I always well understand why the hon. Gentleman asks his questions about animal welfare, but he is asking for an opt-out from existing law, not from prospective law, which is what we were talking about with the social chapter. I believe that the Government have often been advised that we have no legal power to ban the export of animals, as the hon. Gentleman requests, or to ban the imports of veal, as he requests. We shall work very hard in Europe for the protection and standards that we exercise in this country and which have led to veal crates being banned here.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Notwithstanding what my right hon. Friend said in answer to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley), can he not understand that Members on both sides of the House are deeply anxious about the future of the ABB carriage works in York and
Column 286about the carriage works in Derby? Should not someone be answerable to this House for decisions taken by a public industry?
British Rail has published no figures on which its decision was based; it did not even have the courtesy or the good grace to put the figures to Transport Ministers or to the Treasury, to check whether there was a business case, under the private finance initiative, for financing these much needed trains for the south-east railway. Should we not have a statement in the House next week, so that we can put these questions to Ministers on behalf of our constituents?
Mr. Newton: I know that my hon. Friend will understand that I cannot add to what I said to the hon. Member for York. I know too that my hon. Friend will have the opportunity, if he has not already had it, to make his points direct to the Minister.
I cannot this afternoon promise a debate in Government time, but perhaps, when you, Madam Speaker, announce the arrangements for Wednesday morning debates, my hon. Friend may wish to consider seeking an opportunity on one of those occasions.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): Can the Leader of the House assure us that the Disability Discrimination Bill, which is to be presented today, will include Northern Ireland, bearing in mind that I raised that question at the time of the Minister's statement; or will we be left to continue to support the private Member's Bill that will give further rights to disabled people in the whole of the nation?
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye): Will my right hon. Friend find time in the near future for a debate on the Liberal-proposed MPs charter, so that we can benefit from the advice of the leader of the Liberal Democrats on an acceptable level of attendance in the voting Lobby?
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): Can we have a statement on the arrangements for Ministers meeting people from outside the House of Commons? If the Leader of the House were to meet Mr. Ian Greer and discuss a matter of public policy, and I were to table a question asking the Leader of the House whether he had met Mr. Greer, would he answer me on the basis that it had been a formal meeting, or would he refuse to answer in so far as it may have been an informal meeting? What is the distinction between formal and informal meetings where they take place between Ministers and lobbying companies?
Mr. Newton: I really do not think that I should try to answer a question like that on a hypothetical basis without knowing what the subject is, the meeting or anything else. The last occasion on which I recall meeting Mr. Ian Greer--although I imagine that the hon. Gentleman's question is not particularly directed at me--was passing him in a corridor at the Conservative party conference, when we exchanged some brief words. [Interruption.] No,
Column 287we certainly did not. As far as I am concerned, the answer that I would give to such a question would depend on all the circumstances involved.
Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on drug use in council housing? Does he realise that many local authorities continue to provide council housing for known drug dealers? Is he aware that the residents of the Queen's Park estate in my constituency are fed up with drug pushers in council flats who continue to sell LSD and crack cocaine to children as young as 11? Is it not time that Blackpool's Labour-controlled council was forced to stop sheltering criminals?
Mr. Newton: I would certainly hope that anybody concerned with the sort of problem that my hon. Friend described would look carefully at how they could deal with it, reduce it and, I hope, prevent it. As chairman of the group that produced the White Paper "Tackling Drugs Together", I hope that they would find the Government's proposals for strategy in that area helpful in achieving that.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): May I ask a question of which I gave notice to the right hon. Gentleman's office and to the Foreign Secretary's private secretary? In the light of the report of Claude Cheysson, which was broadcast at five minutes to eight this morning outlining the starvation situation in Iraq, and in which he gave his expert opinion as a former French Foreign Minister and European Commissioner--that, far from sapping the strength of Saddam Hussein, sanctions had rallied the Iraqi people to Saddam Hussein as nothing else--and in view of the report of Riad El Taher outlining the medical situation in Iraq, which is in the possession of the Foreign Office, could we have a debate on what amounts to the manipulation of the United Nations by the United States and Britain, and on the continuation of these counter-productive, indeed wicked, sanctions?
Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman knows not only that I have considerable respect for the integrity of his position, even when I do not agree with it, but that we have great sympathy with the Iraqi people, and therefore recognise his concern for them. But the fact is that it is Saddam Hussein, not the United Nations, who is responsible for their suffering. We deplore the Iraqi regime for its failure to implement United Nations Security Council resolutions 706 and 712, which would allow Iraq to sell up to £1.6 billion of oil in return for humanitarian supplies. Since April 1991, Britain has contributed more than £66 million of aid to Iraq.
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South): Will my right hon. Friend consider holding an urgent debate on the implications for the workings of the House arising from the failure, according to the Official Report , of three Scottish Members of the shadow Cabinet--the hon. Members for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar)--to vote for the Opposition's amendment to the Government's motion on the Committee of Selection, despite the fact that they were available 15 minutes later to vote against the Government's motion? When the
Column 288Leader of the Opposition tables an amendment on behalf of the shadow Cabinet and three senior members of it fail to turn up to vote for it, surely that raises questions about how the House operates.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): I listened carefully to the Leader of the House when he announced that Parliament would not be sitting for eight Fridays, and that we will have 11 days off for Easter and another 12 days off for Whitsuntide. Would it not be easier for him to come to the House and tell us which days we will be sitting? Will the right hon. Gentleman understand that there should be a statement for those people outside this place who would like to have a four-day week? If we introduced a four-day week for the real wealth creators, the workers who provide goods and services, we could probably mop up those 4 million people who are unemployed. It is the unemployed we should be concerned about, not having days off in here.
Mr. Newton: I shall not go over all the ground again, but I do just wish, as I suspect virtually everybody else in the House does, that the hon. Gentleman would at least recognise that the suggestion that this is a four-day week is utterly ludicrous. What Members of Parliament wish to be doing is working in their constituencies in conjunction with their duties in the House.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Will my right hon. Friend invite the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make an early statement next week on the anomalies and uncertainties in the Value Added Tax (Transport) Order 1994 which were so glaringly exposed last night, not least by the inability of the Paymaster General to tell me whether children travelling on the Ruislip lido railway would be subject to VAT at the standard rate, a rate which, under European Union rules, cannot be reduced below 15 per cent.?
In that statement, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Chancellor promises the House that never again will Her Majesty's Government move an increase of VAT from zero rate to standard rate without primary legislation?
Mr. Newton: I was not myself able to be present except briefly during the debate last night but, as my hon. Friend has said, the matter was extensively debated then. I shall not seek this afternoon to add to what was said then, but I shall certainly bring my hon. Friend's point to the attention of the Paymaster General and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Is the Leader of the House aware that many people in London are thoroughly fed up with a health service that cannot deliver, a transport service that is expensive and serious housing shortages? The one place that could be a centre for regional government in London, county hall, is a centre of a huge controversy and inquiry about sleaze and corruption. Is it not time to have a debate about the nature
Column 289of local government in London and the need for the capital city to have an elected authority like every other capital city in the world?
Mr. Newton: We do from time to time have debates on London, although I have no immediate plans to arrange one, but I shall bear the request in mind. However, in saying that, I should make it clear that I do not for one minute accept the hon. Gentleman's description of circumstances in London, whether on health, transport or anything else.
[ That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to end the chaos and uncertainty currently surrounding the export of live animals by introducing regulations to require animals exported for food to be slaughtered in this country prior to their export. ]
It has been signed by 75 Members from both sides of the House, and covers a matter of great concern throughout the country. It calls for animals to be slaughtered here before being exported as meat. May we have a debate on that important matter during the next week?
Mr. Newton: It is fairly clear that I do not plan to arrange a debate on that subject next week. My hon. Friend, however, may be among those who will bear in mind what you will say in a few minutes about Wednesdays, Madam Speaker.
I have already referred to the issue that my hon. Friend raised in responding to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), and I think that my answer now must be much the same.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston): At the risk of boring the Leader of the House, may I ask him again to ask the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House--if not next week, at some time in the near future--to share the information that he has about the recent investigation into the loss of the Derbyshire? Does the Leader of the House agree that the bereaved families who have been waiting some 12 to 14 years for a response are entitled to that information, and that the Secretary of State alone should not be privy to it?
Mr. Newton: I believe that the hon. Gentleman asked me about that in December, when I last answered Prime Minister's questions. I cannot add to the reply that I gave him then, but I shall bring his continued concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): I seek some clarification of remarks made earlier by the Leader of the House. Was he making a clear, unequivocal commitment to provide Government time for a debate on constitutional change in the United Kingdom, given the current interest in the subject? If so, will those on both Front Benches please provide us with definitions of their terminology as applied to the words "nation", "region", "state", "sovereignty", "independence" and "co-operation"--and, of course, the principle on which they base referendums?
Column 290Mr. Newton: As I have said, I should certainly like to hear definitions of some of the Labour party's proposals.
I am afraid that the answer to the first part of the hon. Lady's question is no. I was simply being as friendly and helpful as I could--as I always am--without commitment.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West): First, may I press the Leader of the House further on the issue of Government time for a debate on animal welfare? Secondly, will he give an assurance that Ministers responsible for the several private Members' Bills relating to that subject will adopt a rather more positive and constructive approach than some Ministers have adopted in the past in regard to private Members' Bills?
Lastly, will the right hon. Gentleman consider using his good offices to persuade the Government to advise those responsible for Government purchasing policies--and, indeed, the House authorities--to announce that they are unwilling to purchase imported veal until the means of its production is acceptable? Those are three positive steps that the Government could and should take to assist in the matter.
Mr. Newton: Obviously, my right hon. and hon. Friends will consider the various private Members' Bills as constructively as they can when the details are available. I am not sure whether all of them have been published yet, but I am sure that they will be read very carefully. As for the hon. Gentleman's last question, if--as I take it--he is suggesting that the House catering authorities, for example, should cease to buy white veal, I am sure that the Chairman of the Catering Committee will consider his suggestion.
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South): Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House about the death of Lee Bowen in Doncaster prison? Given that some 86 per cent. of those working in the prison had never been in prison before when it opened in June, I am sure that the Home Secretary will accept responsibility for this event, which was a direct result of his privatisation policy.
Mr. Newton: In view of the subject of the hon. Gentleman's question, I think that it would be appropriate for me to bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West): Are we likely to have a chance to debate the work of the Overseas Development Administration? If not, will the right hon. Gentleman please ask for a statement about overseas debts owed to this country in general and, in particular, the debt owed by the kingdom of Jordan?
In view of the Jordanian Government's skilful, courageous and successful involvement in the middle east process, and given that they are in any event very unlikely to be able to repay the debt, perhaps this is the right time to write it off as a gesture of good will and good intent towards a very brave Government.
Mr. Newton: As the hon. and learned Gentleman probably expects, I cannot promise a debate on that matter. However, he has effectively made his suggestion, and I am sure that it will be looked at by my right hon. Friends who are responsible for such matters.
Madam Speaker: Under the new arrangements for Wednesdays there will be one or two general debates between 10 am and 1 pm and up to three short debates between 1 pm and 2.30 pm. Ballots for the subjects to be debated will be held under broadly the same arrangements as those which have hitherto applied for
post-Consolidated Fund debates and last-day Adjournment debates. The first Wednesday morning sitting will be on 25 January, and applications should reach my office no later than 10 pm on Tuesday 17 January. A list showing the subjects and times will be published the following day.
Members may apply for both the general debates and the short debates, and each application should indicate clearly into which ballot they wish to be entered. Separate ballots will be held for each type of debate but, of course, in the same week no Member will be successful in both ballots. Similar arrangements and a similar timetable will apply in each subsequent week. The existing arrangements with respect to Adjournment debates at the end of each day's business will remain unchanged.
Mr. Secretary Lilley, supported by Mr. Secretary Portillo, Mr. William Hague, Mr. Secretary Gummer, Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew, Mr. Secretary Mawhinney, Mrs. Secretary Bottomley, Mr. David Hunt, Mrs. Secretary Shephard and Mr. Secretary Lang presented a Bill to make it unlawful to discriminate against disabled persons in connection with employment and the provision of goods, facilities and services; to make provision about the employment of disabled persons; and to establish a National Disability Council: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. [Bill 32.]