Monday 23 January----Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill (First Day).
Tuesday 24 January----Second Reading of the Disability Discrimination Bill.
Motion relating to the Local Government (Compensation for Redundancy) Regulations.
Wednesday 25 January----Continuation of consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill (Second Day).
Thursday 26 January----Opposition Day (2nd allotted day) (1st part). Until 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on mortgage interest relief for persons on income support on an Opposition motion.
Followed by a debate on the future of rural England on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Friday 27 January----Private Members' Bills.
I am not yet in a position to give as full an indication of the following week's business as I would wish, but I hope that it will help the House to know that the consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill on the Floor of the House will be brought to a conclusion on Monday 30 January. I expect to provide Opposition time later in the week and there will be a debate on science in the second half of Thursday 2 February on a motion for the Adjournment. The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee A will meet on Wednesday 25 January to consider European Community Document No. 11141/94 relating to reform of the sugar regime.
Mrs. Taylor: I thank the Leader of the House for the information that he has given and for the partial information that he gave for the following week, and confirm to him that it would always be helpful to the House to have information about the following week's business, even provisionally.
In view of the shortcomings of the Child Support Agency, which were identified today by the Parliamentary Ombudsman as mistaken identity, failure to answer correspondence, inadequate procedure, incorrect advice and delays, in a report which has prompted an apology from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt), when can we expect such an apology to be made in the House and when can we expect Ministers to announce a complete overhaul of the Child Support Agency, as Labour has long demanded? On another matter, in view of the press conference this morning which has formalised the split between independent Conservatives and the Government, in which the group of independents issued its own set of priorities--indeed, its own manifesto-- and set out its own agenda, and in view of the inadequate answer that the Prime Minister gave in response to the question about political funding asked by my hon. Friend the
Column 850Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar), will the Leader of the House find time in the near future for a debate on the need to define and register political parties?
Mr. Newton: On the latter point, as I am sure the hon. Lady would expect, I neither accept the suggestion that my right hon. Friend's reply was inadequate nor do I intend to seek to add to it. On the Child Support Agency, I thought that the hon. Lady's remarks were marginally ungenerous, as the Government have already made it clear that they accept the findings of the ombudsman's report. Indeed, she might have referred to the fact that the ombudsman comments favourably on the significant improvements that have already been introduced by the chief executive which, he recognises, should bring general benefits. As for a statement of further Government policy on that subject, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security expects to announce the Government's response to the Social Security Select Committee shortly, and I am sure that that will help the hon. Lady.
I noted, and was again grateful for, the hon. Lady's remarks about my remarks on business. I shall, of course, continue my efforts to give as much information as possible about the second week's business. I am sorry that I have not been able to do as much as I would have liked this week, as a result of a number of uncertainties, but I shall continue to strive.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East): Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate about charities abusing their special privileges, in view of the decision by the Charities Commission to investigate the political difficulties of the Institute for Public Policy Research?
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): Returning to the important issue of the future amendment or otherwise of the Child Support Agency, is the Leader of the House aware that there has been press speculation that the Government have now already decided that there shall be primary legislation to try to amend the existing legislation? Can the Leader of the House confirm, not only that we shall have a statement about that next week, but that we shall have a time at which we can fundamentally recast the existing primary legislation?
Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman has much experience, and I do not suppose that hope has triumphed over it to the point of expecting me to comment on press speculation, but I have already said that my right hon. Friend expects to respond to the Select Committee shortly, and I am sure that that will resolve some of the uncertainties in the hon. Gentleman's mind.
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford): Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent early debate on education in the county of Kent, given that, at the moment, we enjoy a range and variety of secondary schools second to none in the country and that, under the proposals of the Labour party, every school that we have that is different will be
Column 851converted to the comprehensive system, against the wishes of the people whom Conservative Members represent?
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): On the Child Support Agency, does the Leader of the House accept that a statement on the Social Security Select Committee report is simply not good enough? That law is ruining families. People are killing themselves because of it. It is wrecking family life and it is not good enough simply to come to the House with that narrow remit. A woman in my constituency who has cared for her child for eight years by herself has now, because of the agency's failings, lost custody of that child. It is causing heartbreak the length and breadth of the country. We demand a debate immediately on that awful law.
Mr. Newton: It is not all that long since the House had a debate on the subject in which, understandably, a number of strong views were expressed. I have made it clear that, as would be expected, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security will respond to the Select Committee's report. That does not necessarily mean that his comments will be confined to points raised by the Select Committee.
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr): Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the openness of information seekers? I was approached today, perhaps mistakenly, by the researchers of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), who were desperately looking to find the dirt on directors. Perhaps they wanted the information prior to a statement to be made by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East next Tuesday.
Mr. Newton: I will certainly consider what my hon. Friend has said. I do not think that he asked me for a debate next week, but if he did I shall have to consider it when I see what the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) has to say.
Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey): May we have a statement from the Department of Trade and Industry next week, given the news today that Lady Archer is to resign from the board of Anglia Television, following the £80,000 profit that Lord Archer made on share dealings when Anglia Television was sold last year? The DTI and the President of the Board of Trade found no grounds for an investigation following those events, yet Lady Archer is now to resign. May we now have a statement from the DTI in the light of the new information?
Mr. Newton: To my regret the hon. Lady has simply, once again, as some of her colleagues have done, used the Floor of the House to engage in mud-slinging that she would not care to do outside. I do not intend to join her in that.
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester): Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the Government's roads policy? While many aspects of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said before Christmas about the rebalancing of the programme are welcome, there is considerable concern in my constituency that it may
Column 852threaten the construction of the Wyre Piddle bypass? Such a debate would give an opportunity to put my constituents' minds at rest on the subject.
Mr. Newton: You, Madam Speaker, may share my view that the subject that my hon. Friend has understandably raised on behalf of his constituents might bid for a place among what look like being popular debates on Wednesday mornings. If I may say so without infringing on your privilege, Madam Speaker, I hope that you will bear my hon. Friend in mind.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is a statement next week about the plight of the fire services throughout Britain and the massive cuts taking place in all authorities due to the fact that, last year, a £43 million cut instituted by the Government was followed in this financial year by another £47 million cut for the sectors controlled by county councils? As a result, fire protection throughout Britain will be much reduced, stations will be closed and men thrown on the scrapheap. Is it not time for the Government to guarantee that that shortfall of money will be given to the local authorities so that those events do not occur in 1995?
Mr. Newton: It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman that I do not accept his description of what is occurring. The Government are concerned to ensure proper funding for proper services throughout the country. I expect the hon. Gentleman to have some opportunity to refer to such matters in the next few weeks.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Will my right hon. Friend find time, if not next week, in one of the gaps in the business programme the week after next, for the long-overdue debate on civil air transport so that we can discuss the importance of early privatisation of the national air traffic control services and the likely impact on the industry, both of the transport value added tax measure passed last week and the passenger departure tax?
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): May I ask a question of which I gave notice to the private secretary of the Secretary of State for Scotland and his office? It concerns the parlous state of the Forth rail bridge. The Secretary of State for the Environment said yesterday that he would personally inspect that marvellous structure, and we genuinely welcome that, but may we have a statement about the Government's responsibilities in the matter? It is serious, and it is urgent.
Mr. Newton: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who, with his usual courtesy, told me of the matter that he wished to raise. I understand that responsibility for the Forth rail bridge rests with Railtrack, but, as a result of representations made by the hon. Gentleman to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland--who is Minister with responsibility for education and housing at the Scottish Office--inquiries are being made
Column 853of Railtrack by the Scottish Office about the maintenance of the bridge. I am sure that my hon. Friends will be in touch with the hon. Gentleman.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): Will the Lord President find time in a busy parliamentary schedule to return to the agenda a subject that seems to have dropped off the edge--cross-rail? Following the magnificent work put in by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), and the great disappointment felt by both his constituents and mine after the measure fell through, it is very important that it is not allowed to be forgotten and continues to be debated in this place.
Mr. Newton: My hon. Friend will be aware that we have recently debated, and will debate again in due course, another large project often linked with cross-rail--the channel tunnel rail link. I cannot promise an early debate on cross-rail, but I will certainly bring my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): The Leader of the House will know of the recent report from the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment, which concluded that building new roads generates extra traffic. He will also know that the Secretary of State for the Environment has drawn attention to the worrying levels of pollution in the atmosphere which are caused by traffic, and the resulting damage to our health. May we expect an early statement on that contradiction between the Government's transport policies and what was said by the Secretary of State for the Environment, so that we can clarify the position and make some progress?
Mr. Newton: I do not think that there is any contradiction between Government policies in those two areas. As in a range of areas of public policy under any Government, objectives--all desirable in themselves--need to be balanced against each other. I am, however, grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming, as I take it--and as I certainly do--the proposals for improving air quality announced recently by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on parking in central London, and particularly on the enthusiastic removal of cars from legal parking in the City of Westminster?
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): May we have another debate on fish next week, and in particular on the 1,000 tonnes of fish that the Government are now reported to have promised Northern Ireland Members to shore up their sell-out to Spanish fishing interests? Is it a new 1,000 tonnes of fish, in which case I want to know who has lost 1,000 tonnes so that Northern Ireland can gain it, or is
Column 854it not--in which case, why are the Government conning Northern Ireland Members to shore up a discredited fishing policy?
Mr. Newton: I have two points to make. First, "sell-out" is a ludicrous description of the very successful negotiation conducted by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, as I thought last night's debate made clear. Secondly, that was an extensive debate in which the hon. Gentleman had plenty of time to make his points, and I do not propose to continue it this afternoon.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): Given the huge public concern that has been expressed in the town of Brightlingsea in my constituency about the export of live animals, may we have an early debate on the subject? In particular, may we find out why Ministers cannot act under article 36 of the treaty of European Union because a subsequent directive has not been properly completed with the regulations below it?
Mr. Newton: My hon. Friend may have an opportunity to raise that point with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is due to answer questions next Thursday. Meanwhile, I simply point out that my hon. Friend knows full well that the Government are doing everything that they can to bring the standard of animal welfare in Europe to the level that we expect in this country.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): On the Nolan debate, has the Leader of the House ever been lobbied himself by a commercial organisation at an unofficial or informal engagement since he has been in the Government--
Madam Speaker: I am not concerned about the Nolan debate. I am concerned about next week's business and questions to the Leader of the House, which should be in order. They should have nothing to do with the Leader of the House personally or who he has met at any time.
Mr. Campbell-Savours rose --
Mr. Newton: I am not entirely clear about the purpose or, indeed, the meaning of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I certainly do not expect to be able to provide time for such a statement next week. However, I have noticed that the hon. Gentleman is asking a great many questions on the subject.
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest): May I ask the Leader of the House to find time for a debate next week on the future of Europe to give us the opportunity to contrast the very welcome proposals made by the Prime
Column 855Minister for the intergovernmental conference in 1996, which include the notion that there should be no constitutional change, no single currency and significant deregulation in Europe, with the febrile, feeble and supine attitude that the Labour party adopts to the European Community, which would not only mean our ceding more national sovereignty but would lead to increased costs and the loss of thousands of jobs?
Mr. Newton: My hon. Friend outlines very effectively the contrast between the position of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and that of the Labour party. That notwithstanding, I do not think that I can find time for such a debate next week.
Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood): The Leader of the House will be aware that the Prime Minister informed the House on Tuesday that the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill included measures to combat discrimination in the spheres of education and transport. He will also be aware that clause 12 specifically excludes education and transport. Will he therefore provide time--if not this week, next week--for the Prime Minister to apologise to the House for yet again misleading it on his position on civil rights for disabled people?
Mr. Newton: I see no reason for my right hon. Friend to apologise, given the part that he has played in bringing the Government to the point where we have produced in the White Paper a substantial package of measures to combat discrimination against disabled people. That package includes proposals for dealing with, among other things, transport and education.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Will my right hon. Friend find time at the earliest opportunity for a debate on British agriculture so that the House can express its full-hearted support for those who work in and for it and drown out the snipers who would do down that valuable aspect of our economy?
Mr. Newton: I cannot immediately undertake to provide time for a debate on British agriculture, but I certainly share my hon. Friend's views about the efforts of those who work in the industry and their contribution to the national economy.
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth): The Leader of the House will recall that during the debates on coal privatisation various hon. Members, including the President of the Board of Trade, made soothing remarks about ancillary property. Will he therefore arrange for a statement next week by the President of the Board of Trade on the fact that British Coal Property is proposing to sell in London in huge parcels medium-sized farms and allotments in my constituency and across the country, contrary to the interests of the little person?
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford): My right hon. Friend will not have missed the fact that devolution has become a live issue. As the Opposition have now presented their proposals for devolution, does he think that he could make time available for a good day's debate
Column 856on them? If so, will he bear it in mind that, in the spirit of generosity, we should allow a free vote so that all hon. Members can express their true opinions?
Mr. Newton: I indicated in my opening statement that I should look to provide Opposition time in the latter part of the week after next. In the circumstances, the Opposition may wish to use that time to clarify their position. Whether they feel able to do so will be an interesting test.
[ That this House is surprised and concerned at the failure of Bradford Community Health Trust to publish the report of the recent inquiry into the escape by Raymond Pemberton, a remand prisoner accused of serious and violent offences, from outside a secure unit at Lynfield Mount Hospital last June; notes the honourable Member for Bradford West was told by the honourable Member for Battersea in a letter, dated 8th August last year, and by the honourable Member for Bolton West in a letter, dated 3rd August last year, that the inquiry's report would be published; further notes Professor Michael Schofield, Chairman of the Trust, in a letter, dated 11th July last year, told the Chairwoman at a local school governing body, that the report would be published; wonders who or what persuaded the Trust Board on 19th December to publish next day only the inquiry's recommendations; and urges that the undertakings given by two Parliamentary Under Secretaries of State at the Department of Health and Professor Schofield be now honoured by the publication of the inquiry report without further delay. ]
Will he arrange for time to be given to the hon. Members for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) and for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) to explain why they gave me undertakings last August that the report into an escape from a secure unit in my constituency would be published? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is a serious matter when two Ministers who belong to an Administration who claim to believe in open government collude with an unelected quango, the community health trust in Bradford, to suppress the publication of a report into a matter of important public policy?
Mr. Newton: My understanding is that the trust decided that only the report's recommendations would be published to ensure clinical confidentiality--to which, I imagine, the hon. Gentleman attaches importance--and to encourage those interviewed to be open and frank. Whether he agrees with that decision or not, it does not have quite the flavour of what he described.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Will my right hon. Friend provide time for an early debate on the legal consequences of the ruling this afternoon by the House of Lords to uphold the life sentence against Private Lee Clegg for shooting a joy rider in a car which had burst through his patrol's position in Ulster? During that debate, we should discuss the fact that the ruling included the point that the yellow card, on which all our soldiers in Northern Ireland depend for their legal advice, had, in the
Column 857eyes of the British courts, not got "any legal force." Can my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that the House will discuss the matter?
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe): Reverting to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), may I ask the Leader of the House to arrange for some Minister to make an urgent, clarifying statement, more especially since those affected are Britain's 6.5 million disabled people? Are education and the means for transport to be included in the Bill or not? In other words, was the Prime Minister right or wrong?
Mr. Newton: The right hon. Gentleman will have every opportunity to make his points in the debate on the Second Reading of the Disability Discrimination Bill next Tuesday. I have made it clear that the Government's package as a whole, set out in the White Paper, includes proposals for transport and education. That is part of the Government's overall effort to improve things for disabled people.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): May we have a debate next week on the disgraceful decision of Kraft Jacobs Suchard to close by 1996 the Lyons instant coffee factory in Greenford in my constituency, which it bought only a year ago, with the loss of 280 jobs? The House could then examine what looks disgracefully like asset stripping and the removal of jobs in a completely unreasonable and unfair way.
Mr. Newton: I cannot undertake to provide time for such a debate. Again, it is a point that my hon. Friend might consider for the various Adjournment debate opportunities that now exist. I am sure that his remarks will be noted by the company at which they are directed and by my right hon. Friends.
Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): Will the Leader of the House invite the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement in the House about charges for water and sewerage, not just to deal with the unacceptable 70 per cent. rise since privatisation, but to respond to a document sent to him at the end of September by the Water Services Association and the Water Companies Association asking that the law be amended or deregulated to allow water companies, where appropriate, to use council tax as a means of charging for water and sewerage? That request has been backed by more than 210 hon. Members. On 20 December, the Secretary of State told me that he would make a statement soon. Will the Leader of the House ensure that it is made very soon?
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): May I support the call made earlier for a debate on fire brigades? During that debate, we could highlight the very high standards of professionalism which were shown last night in Maidstone by the Kent fire brigade in dealing with what
Column 858was probably the largest fire in the county since the last war. We would be able to join our hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) and the other Kent Members in congratulating those fire-fighters on their professionalism. Is it not also worth pointing out that the only way in which a fire brigade could be underfunded would be if the county council concerned shortchanged it?
Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): May we have an early statement about safety inspectors on roll-on roll-off ferries? The Leader of the House will remember that the inspectors were due to be privatised. Now press reports say that they are not, but there are indications that once the controversy has died down, they will be privatised. The policy is rolling about. It needs to be cleared up.
Mr. Newton: The important point about any such policy is that it should be effective in ensuring safety to the maximum practicable extent. I have no doubt that, whatever the regime, that will be the intention and the purpose of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton): Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on how some local authorities are implementing care in the community, because I am genuinely concerned about the Liberal Democrats in Devon county council placing people in local authority homes at £400 per week, when those people could get better care in private sector homes at £200 a week? That is a dreadful waste of taxpayers' money and, of course, is in breach of Government regulations.
Mr. Newton: My hon. Friend expresses a concern felt in various parts of the country, including my area, which was the subject of an Adjournment debate a week or so ago touching on somewhat similar points. I shall certainly bring that concern to the attention of my right hon. Friends.
[ That this House notes with concern the announcement by Stock Exchange on Wednesday 18th January that it proposes no action with regard to the conduct of Swiss Bank Corporation and its innovative market making activities; notes the extensive trading in derivatives and contracts for differences over the last four years; and calls on the Government to exert sufficient control over the regulatory bodies in order to prevent the further exploitation of regulatory loopholes. ]
[ That this House is concerned about the relationship that the Keswick family and Trafalgar House has with the Conservative Party and the Government in connection with Trafalgar House's bid for Northern Electric; notes that the sister-in-law of the Chairman of Trafalgar House is an adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; also notes that Trafalgar House has made substantial donations to the Conservative Party in recent years; and calls upon the Government and the Conservative Party to clarify its relationship with Trafalgar House and the Keswick family. ]
[ That this House regards with concern the conduct of Swiss Bank Corporation and its innovative market making activities; believes that electricity share hedging and
Column 859complex share option contracts entered into by Trafalgar House and Swiss Bank Corporation, which allow Trafalgar House to profit from movements in the share prices of RECs, create a false market; and calls for an immediate inquiry into contracts for differences share dealings and the tightening of legal loopholes which are being exploited by privileged individuals with no benefit to the consumer. ]
Will he arrange a debate or perhaps a statement next week on the Swiss Bank Corporation and Trafalgar House and its dealings and takeover bid for Northern Electricity? There seems to be something fishy going on there and it has a hell of a smell. We need it cleared up.
Mr. Newton: I am aware of the early-day motions to which the hon. Gentleman refers. As I understand it, there has been an indication of further consideration of what are very complex issues and I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to comment further at this time.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his position and allow a debate on the party system, the conventions of the House and, indeed, collective responsibility? In doing so, will he allow us to debate the convention that a Minister who chooses to vote against his party should resign from his office, especially as it appears that in the Labour party, someone can fail to support his party on a whipped vote and yet remain a Whip himself?
Mr. Newton: The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) originally made the point, in connection with the debate on the Committee of Selection, that the sort of thing to which my hon. Friend refers could be done in the Labour party and that one would still be expected to vote. He went on to say that he did not think that it was fair that any such system should operate anywhere else except in the Labour party. I can see that he has noted my hon. Friend's remarks and is making various defensive noises, but I cannot quite hear what they are.