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Mr. Gummer: I hope that I have done the best for Buckinghamshire--I have tried hard to do that. It is a fine and ancient county, and I hope that we will now have stability there and that all hon. Members from Buckinghamshire will find it possible to support what is inevitably not entirely to everyone's liking.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Has the two-year journey been wasted? Does the Secretary of State agree that, when all transitional costs are taken into account, it will cost more than £1 billion? It is no use blaming the commission, Banham and all the rest. The truth is that the Secretary of State and his mates have changed the rules and told the commission to review and to review again.
How many people will get the sack as a result of the new venture? How many workers will be made redundant? Would it not have been better to use that £1 billion in local government in order to reduce class sizes, instead of spending it on administration?
Why has the right hon. Gentleman not mentioned Derbyshire? Is it because he will get involved in another political carve-up there? Before he tells me about Derbyshire county council, let me tell him that the councillors have been elected with big majorities ever since 1981. The people liked them and voted for them.
Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman has a characteristic of consistency, which is rare in such local government discussions. He is always opposed to anything that I say or any Conservative Member says, whether he has thought about it or not. The hon. Gentleman is wrong about his figures, wrong about his assessment, and wrong about the views that I have put forward. Local government is too important to be based upon the conservatism of the Member of Parliament for Bolsover.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Will my right hon. Friend please add Spelthorne to the list that he will review again? It meets all the requirements that he has listed this afternoon. For reasons of brevity today, I will write to my right hon. Friend, setting out all the justifications, and I hope that he will respond favourably.
Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West): After two years of turmoil in Lancashire, and, it has to be said, much demoralisation among all councils in Lancashire, is not the referral back of Blackburn and Blackpool for further consideration simply a recipe for extending that turmoil and demoralisation?
Column 1196Furthermore, is it not an invitation to boroughs such as Burnley and Preston, which have a logical case in view of what the right hon. Gentleman has decided today, to press him to extend what he is saying to them? Even worse from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view, he might get demands from Lancaster as well.
Mr. Gummer: I have not noticed any demoralisation in the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and I did not notice any demoralisation in my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins), who has already spoken. I have not noticed, either, that the proposal could be demoralising to the people who specifically sought their own unitary authorities in those two places. However sympathetic we may be to those who work in local government--and I am very sympathetic to them--in the end they work there because of the citizens they serve. If those citizens feel strongly that they would be better served by unitary authorities, at least that idea should be considered. It would be odd to demand that it should not be considered.
I know that the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) is one of the rare strong supporters of Lancashire county council, so it is odd that he asks, "What about unitaries elsewhere?" I think that I have got the balance about right, and I hope that we shall be able to go forward together on that basis.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West): Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), is my right hon. Friend aware that most people in Norfolk were in favour of the status quo, and will be pleased? But will he also congratulate the borough of King's Lynn in west Norfolk on its excellent campaign for unitary status, which received considerable support in the town? The people there were pleased to meet the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration the other day.
Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend the Minister of State made a point of telling me that King's Lynn council's presentation seeking unitary status was one of the most excellent that we saw. It was extremely well put forward, and my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) is fortunate in his local council. I hope that, now that the future is clear, Norfolk county council will carry out its stated desire to give much more local preference to the other local authorities in Norfolk.
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton): My right hon. Friend has not mentioned Devon as such, but he has mentioned Plymouth, which is in Devon. Will he bear in mind the fact that the commission's original recommendation for Devon, with the exception of Exeter, to remain the same appeared to have obtained general approval? The second recommendation, which means that my right hon. Friend is now considering Exeter, may not really abide by the general view of the people of Devon, and we should like a reply about Devon as soon as possible.
Mr. Gummer: I promise my right hon. Friend as quick a reply as possible on Devon. In the light of what the recommendations of the commission were, it is not proper for me to refer in this statement to an area wider than
Column 1197Exeter, but I shall continue to consider the proposals for Devon carefully, and I shall make a statement as soon as I can.
Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his acceptance of Sir John Banham's recommendation that, after 100 years of service to the people of Lancashire, Lancashire county council should continue in existence.
I accept what he says about the historic status of Blackpool as a county borough, but there will be considerable concern that my right hon. Friend appears to have ignored many of the points that Sir John made in his report about additional transitional costs and about the effect on the ability to deliver services both to the people of Blackpool and throughout Lancashire. I hope that, when the fresh review is constituted, my right hon. Friend will urge Sir John's successor to consider those factors carefully. Can he tell us how long he expects the present period of uncertainty to continue?
Mr. Gummer: There is no uncertainty for the rest of Lancashire, but we shall get this period over as rapidly as possible. I have made no statement about the validity of the Banham remarks about Blackpool. All I have said is that I am offering the opportunity for a newly constituted commission to reconsider Blackpool. No doubt it will take into account all that my hon. Friend has said. It would be wrong to deny to the many people in Blackpool who have sought unitary status the opportunity to have their case considered in the present context rather than in another.
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth): Is my right hon. Friend aware that what he said about Warwickshire will be widely welcomed within the shire county? The status quo was desired, and I am grateful to him for agreeing with that. However, he will understand that funding is critical for local authorities. To use his own phrase, the "delegation of responsibility" applies especially to local authorities. Can he therefore say when the cap might be lifted, so that true accountability might be restored to local government?
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster): The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) said that the majority of people in Lancashire preferred the status quo, but only 5 per cent. voted in favour of that. Since the county council employs no fewer than 47,000 persons, that disposes of most of that 5 per cent.
May I congratulate Blackburn and Blackpool on their good fortune, as they will in all probability escape from the profligacy and inefficiency of Lancashire county council? I much regret that, up to now, liberalisation has not come to Lancaster, which is a historic city, an academic and business centre, a thoroughly composite place and the gateway to the lake district. May I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider that most lamentable decision?
Mr. Gummer: There are many cities in this country which could well do with the earnest advocacy which my hon. Friend gives to Lancaster. I do not think that anyone in Lancaster could possibly not know that she speaks for the city whenever the opportunity occurs.
Column 1198My hon. Friend knows the terms under which I sought to produce the list, and she must understand that--following my careful study of the terms--the great city of Lancaster has neither the size nor the nature which would lead it to be in the same sector as the others to which she referred. [Hon. Members:-- "Just say no."] I will not--as Opposition Members would like--dismiss what my hon. Friend has put forward, and I will look again at the terms. I ought not to give her a huge hope, as hers is a rather different case from others.
Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon): While welcoming my right hon. Friend's decision to accept the commission's recommendation in respect of Warwickshire, may I ask whether he agrees that, after 20 years of Treasury rule, local government is not in all respects flourishing as he would wish?
In the reference in his statement to the desirability of self-sustaining communities, was my right hon. Friend in effect saying that, in future, the democratic principle would be better expressed through subsidiarity and local accountability? Does he agree that sauce for the goose must be sauce for gander, and that, just as we insist on subsidiarity between the European Union and the national Government, so we should pursue subsidiarity between the national Government and local authorities--and, moreover, between local authorities and their own communities?
Mr. Gummer: I have always believed in subsidiarity, and it is important that it is applied not just as far as the United Kingdom in the European Union is concerned, but to local authorities. I wish that those authorities which most demand subsidiarity would remember their need to give subsidiarity to schools and all other organisations which are perfectly capable of running themselves, instead of being bossed about by town halls.
Sir David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be great relief in my constituency that it has finally been confirmed that Dunstable, Leighton Buzzard and the villages will not be pushed into a Greater Luton, and that mid-Bedfordshire will not be pushed into a Greater Bedford? Can he confirm that elections for the reconstituted Bedfordshire county council--which we hope will be successful --will be in May 1997?
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (Surrey, East): May I particularly welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about keeping those local authorities such as Surrey, which made commitments in the heat of consultation about devolving and sharing power, up to the mark? My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration, who kindly visited my constituency only yesterday, will know that parish councils command wide popular support. Will my right hon. Friend consider putting back into his recommendations what the commission unaccountably left out--a recommendation for new parish councils in Tandridge district?
Column 1199what the county councils have promised them. I must say that a number of county councils which hitherto had shown precious little regard for subsidiarity, co-operation or delegation became extremely keen on it when there was any possibility of them being abolished. I have a list of all those clear statements, and I intend to ensure that, as those county councils made the statements, they shall carry them out.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): While I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement about the chairmanship and future membership of the commission, may I express my concern at the time that he is taking to decide on the future of Derbyshire? Some Conservative Members find it difficult to understand how a Local Government Commission can recommend unitary status for Rutland, at 33,000, and ignore every other district that wants the same sort of status. We ought to consider the view that the commission has reported and its consistency, and we should follow the Rutland experiment and give unitary status to districts.
Mr. Gummer: Although I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's view, my colleagues and I have met a large number of delegations so that we can make those decisions properly. I am sure that he would be the first to be concerned if we had not met the many delegations from every county who wanted to see us. My hon. Friend the Minister of State saw the delegation from High Peak only yesterday, as, like the rest of us, he has been busy listening to people and reading the papers concerned. I will produce an answer as rapidly as possible, but it must be based on an understanding of the issues, and not one rushed through on some ideological basis.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Having listened to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), may I presume that I do not need to urge my right hon. Friend to tread carefully on the sensitivities of the people of Leicestershire?
Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West): If we are going to be truly consistent in trying to reflect national identity, may I suggest that now is the time to consider the powers of the huge unitary authorities in the metropolitan areas, to find out whether those heavy-handed authorities can devolve powers to the diverse communities that they embrace, such as the Otleys, the Wetherbys and the Pudseys in highly centralised Leeds?
Mr. Gummer: Our commitment to devolution runs across local government. Subsidiarity is crucial, and should be pushed right down to the bottom. That is why I am so deeply opposed to regional government, which merely puts another row of persons between people and power. That is a very dangerous thing. We need much more devolution. My hon. Friend is right to say that in
Column 1200some of the larger unitary authorities, there is too little concern about what people in neighbourhoods, groups and historic parts think. I hope that we can help that extension.
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay): Will my right hon. Friend clarify his remarks about Exeter, and confirm that there is no question of the city being the subject of a review by the newly constituted Local Government Commission, but that he is simply acknowledging the fact that he has had firm recommendations that Exeter should have unitary status?
Mr. Gummer: I have received a recommendation for Devon, and am still considering what my response should be. The recommendation covers my hon. Friend's constituency of Torbay and also Plymouth, but does not refer to Exeter. In my statement I said that, if one was considering places where there was considerable local desire for unitary authority status and, historically, a county borough, it might be reasonable to consider Exeter and to refer it to the commission.
In the context of the decisions that I have to make, having consulted the county council and the area, Exeter is one of the places that I might wish to refer to the commission. The reason that I put it like that is that it seems right to make that statement to the House now for the sake of completeness, but the full completeness can be achieved only after I have decided on the Devon proposals. I will then say whether I think it right to refer Exeter to the new commission.
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of Essex want less expensive, more effective and more accountable local government services, and that the best way to deliver those is via a unitary authority status organisation, with about seven unitary authorities? Does he deplore the campaign run by Essex county council, at a cost of about £1 million on propaganda, and the way in which Essex county council dragooned its employees into voting on that matter? Will he add Essex to his list of authorities that have made promises to district councils?
Mr. Gummer: Essex county council does not appear to be exactly good at handling its financing. I understand that it has had considerable difficulties this week in trying to meet its proper obligations. Those who suggest that it would be better off under Labour control might like to know that the Labour-led council has fallen apart because of the incompetent way in which it was run. I condemn councils that have spent unnecessarily on these discussions, whatever party controls them. In this case, Essex county council has set a bad example. But I have on my list some clear commitments about how it will deal with the smaller bodies within it, and I shall keep it to those.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): Will the Secretary of State confirm that, in Derbyshire, two MORI polls--there have been two investigations--have shown that people feel that Derby should have a unitary authority and the rest of the county should be a two-tier structure? Should not the Secretary of State make that the overwhelming consideration in coming to a decision on that matter?
Column 1201Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Once I have made those decisions, I shall obviously communicate them to the House. I shall look carefully at what is said, and take into account all that is said. However, my view about MORI polls is coloured by the fact that the numbers voting and the nature of the number of people employed by extremely heavy employers like Derbyshire county council might have some effect on what is revealed. I note that the hon. Member for Bolsover was more interested in the employment of people by the local council than in the services that it provided.
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford): If the Secretary of State is to avoid the same criticism as his predecessor genuinely deserves for the waste of both time and resources, he must give clear, consistent and transparent principles under which the newly constructed commission will operate. It would be helpful to the whole House if he would give an idea of the time scale, both in terms of the 12 outstanding authorities--the papers on those are still on his desk--and when he expects to clear up the uncertainties on that matter; as well as the time scale for the general review process, so that the uncertainty surrounding it may be brought to an end.
I welcome the Secretary of State's decision to meet relevant trade unions, which will reassure staff. Will he look clearly at the view that the present settlement has been unsatisfactory? Does he accept that, although the list he gave contains many of the authorities that need looking at again, it should be supplemented with those mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)--particularly The Wrekin and Norwich, where there is a strong case for unitary status?
Mr. Gummer: I thank the hon. Gentleman for most of those comments. I do not agree with his earlier comments. This is a contentious issue that divides hon. Members within parties, not just across the Floor of the House. In many cases, the commission found itself with a problem whereby not many people had a view about how local government should be structured, although all people had a view about the price they should pay and the services that they wanted. The connection between those and the organisation is sometimes difficult for people to make.
The commission was also hampered by the fact that large numbers of authorities--many more than I would have hoped--ran campaigns that were little short of scandalous in the statements that they made and their attempts to frighten people. Many local councillors will
Column 1202have good reason to look back on this period with considerable sadness. It did local government no good when some councils made threats to school governors, such as suggesting that there would be no education if they were made into unity authorities.
The commission had a difficult job to do, and it has carried it out much more quickly than was originally supposed. I wanted to ensure that it was done with that speed, because I understand the problems that beset people who work for local authorities, and I wanted to try to meet them.
Now that we have reached this stage, we have a sensible way of producing the answers we want. Those answers are the answers of decent local government, providing a proper service, with an enabling council able to ensure that people have the services they need at a reasonable price. I hope that I can deliver that. I hope, too, that the commission will be able to consider those councils that I have mentioned. I will carefully consider the councils that the hon. Members for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) have suggested.
On the time scale, the new commission will be in place in June. During the period till then, we shall be producing the guidelines. I accept that the concepts that might have been taken for granted in the past must be clearly expressed in the guidelines. I shall certainly ensure that I do that, and that will be subject to consultation, not only with Opposition Members, but more widely, with local authorities.
I hope that then the new commission will be able to start its work in July, and I expect that it would try to fulfil that as quickly as it could, but it is not for me to tell it how quickly to do it. I merely assure the House that I will provide the commission with the resources it needs to do so in a reasonable time.
There are no announcements sitting on my desk about those remaining counties, waiting for me to read them. Those counties are subject to considerable consultation, and a great deal of work has been done listening to delegations from the various parts of the counties. I have now almost completed that. I hope very much to be able to complete the work on them myself with my colleagues, and I would expect to be able to make a further statement to the House about those in the very near future. I have to try to do so as soon as possible, not least because it is necessary for the proper and conventional gap between that and the forthcoming local county council elections.
Monday 6 March----Second Reading of the Criminal Appeal Bill. Tuesday 7 March----Opposition Day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled "The Position of Women in Britain" on an Opposition motion.
Wednesday 8 March----Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Until 7 o'clock, motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 (Continuance) Order.
Followed by a motion on the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order.
Thursday 9 March----Until about 7 o'clock, proceedings on the South Africa Bill [Lords] .
Followed by a motion to approve the first report of the Broadcasting Committee on developing the parliamentary broadcasting archives.
Friday 10 March----The House will not be sitting.
The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet on Wednesday 8 March at 10.30 am to consider the unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by Her Majesty's Treasury on 23 November 1994 relating to the European Court of Auditors' annual report for the financial year 1993, together with replies from the institutions.
[Wednesday 8 March:
European Standing Committee B--Relevant European Community document: unnumbered, Report of the Court of Auditors for 1993; relevant report of the European Legislation Committee: HC 70-ii (1994-95).] On Monday 13 March I anticipate proposing the Second Reading of the Gas Bill. I am still considering the exact pattern of business for the rest of the week, but the House may find it helpful to know that on Thursday 16 March I anticipate that Government business will be taken until 7 o'clock, and that that will be followed by a debate on a motion for the Adjournment.
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury): I thank the Leader of the House for that information. Who will speak for the Government in next Tuesday's debate, on the eve of International Women's Day, on the position of women in Britain?
The Leader of the House will, I hope, acknowledge that when the statement on Barings was made on Monday, the Chancellor was, understandably, unable to answer many questions because full information was not available. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made next week to give the House further information, specifically on the 43 pension funds that have been managed by Barings, including a proportion of the London Transport pension fund, about which many people must be worried, and on the charities whose assets are held by Barings and are now frozen? A specific statement on those issues would help many people. The Leader of the House will be aware of the considerable interest, inside and outside the House, in the Prime Minister's apparent U-turn on executive pay. As
Column 1204Ministers do not appear to know whether they would support an amendment to the Finance Bill or to the Gas Bill a week on Monday, or indeed whether legislation is needed at all, and as the Greenbury committee may not report for some time, would it not be a good idea for the Government to initiate a debate in the House on executive pay and share options, so that the most effective way of tackling those abuses can be found and action taken as quickly as possible, not least because of the wide public concern? May we have a promise that such a debate will take place, or are we to assume that the Prime Minister's statement was merely hot air or window dressing? The Government announced today that spending on higher education will increase next year by less than the rate of inflation. I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware that the vice- chancellor of Essex university criticised that decision today, and said that the future will be bleak if we do not invest in education.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) has issued figures today showing that cuts of about £320 million will be made in school budgets next year. When can we expect the Secretary of State for Education to explain to the House the freeze and squeeze in higher education and the dangers associated with the increase in class sizes, which is alarming parents, school governors and teachers alike? The Secretary of State for Education has not been to the Dispatch Box to defend her budgeting since she half promised to do so in the debate that was initiated by the Opposition.
Mr. Newton: I thought that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education made her position and her expectations and the position about funding absolutely clear in the debate to which the hon. Lady referred, but I will bring her remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
On executive pay, again, as on a number of occasions during yesterday's debate, I wondered whether Opposition Members were listening to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was saying to them. I thought that he said straightforwardly that the Government would wish to consider the recommendations of the Greenbury committee, including anything that it might say about the need for legislation, and would then consider those matters at the appropriate time. I did not think that there was any room for misunderstanding about that, and I see no reason to respond to the hon. Lady in the positive way that I would normally seek to do.
The hon. Lady will be aware that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor said that issues arising from Barings had been referred to the Board of Banking Supervision. On most of the issues, it would obviously be right to see what emerges from its inquiries, but I acknowledge that the hon. Lady has referred to a number of worrying matters that obviously need to be taken into account. I will bring those remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor.
Our participation in next Tuesday's debate is still under consideration, but I anticipate that at least one of the speeches will be made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), who recently became chairman of the Women's National Commission.
Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a Government statement or debate about housing renewal grants in Birmingham? Is he aware of the great public anxiety about that issue, that that
Column 1205concern will not be satisfied by an internal party investigation, that public money and the misuse of public money are at stake, and that what is needed is an independent investigation and an assurance that such abuse is not taking place anywhere else?
Mr. Newton: My right hon. Friend refers rightly to the need for an independent investigation, and I understand that the district auditor has followed the proper course and is investigating the allegations that have been made.
My right hon. Friend must also understand that I must be somewhat restrained in my comments about the matter. However, in one sense, the scale of the Leader of the Opposition's intervention and the implications of that action speak for themselves. In those circumstances, the Opposition might feel that it is an appropriate subject for discussion on their next Supply day.
Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale): Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate on the plight of unpaid carers, especially in view of the report from SCOPE--formerly the Spastics Society--which found that many unpaid carers suffer grave financial hardship? Unpaid carers contribute a lot to this country, for which they have a right to be recognised.
Mr. Newton: The hon. Lady will know, I hope, that she is addressing a sympathetic ear. When I was a Minister at the Department of Social Security, I was responsible for extending the invalid care allowance to married women and for a number of other measures designed to recognise and underpin more clearly the position of unpaid carers. It is clear from everything that my right hon. and hon. Friends have done in the spheres of social security and health in recent times that they too are concerned about supporting unpaid carers and about recognising the contribution that they make.
Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there has not been a full House of Commons debate on the Commonwealth since 1987? Since then, not only have we been joined by Namibia, Pakistan and South Africa, but a number of strains have developed within the Commonwealth-- such as the Cyprus question--that must be addressed. Will my right hon. Friend choose the week beginning Monday 13 March--Commonwealth Day--for a debate on the subject of the Commonwealth?
Mr. Newton: There will be some opportunity to refer to such matters next Thursday, 9 March in the debate that I announced on the South Africa Bill. There is continuing uncertainty about the nature of business on Thursday, 16 March. In the circumstances, I clearly cannot make a commitment, but I will bear my hon. and learned Friend's suggestion in mind.
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): Is the Leader of the House aware of the damning indictment of the district auditor, Mr. Rowland Little, of the behaviour of Wandsworth council in breaking the law for many years when rehousing homeless families in the borough? As the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford), a junior Environment Minister, was chairman of that housing authority for three years, when can we expect a statement on his future?
Column 1206the council took account of irrelevant considerations, no evidence of financial loss to the council and nothing to suggest that any council member or officer did not believe in the lawfulness of the council's actions.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): May we have a debate next week on the effect of the action by the Channel 4 television programme "The Word" in paying for another trip by the 14-year-old boy who travelled to Malaysia using his father's passport and credit cards? That sets an extremely bad example to other young people. The boy's parents are apparently under contract to some news magazine and therefore cannot comment on or support that disgraceful decision.
Mr. Newton: I am sure that my hon. Friend's remarks will be studied carefully by those at whom they are directed. I will draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage.
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West): Is the Minister aware that yet another child has died as a result of choking on a pen top? Does he remember that my young constituent, Billy Walker, died in that way some time ago, as a result of which the Government introduced a trading standard? May we have a debate on the need to ban not merely unsafe pens produced in this country but those that are imported from overseas, to ensure that there are no more unnecessary deaths of this nature?
Mr. Newton: The safety of pen caps on sale in the United Kingdom-- whether they are imported or manufactured locally--is covered by the General Product Safety Regulations 1994 and by a British standard requiring the ventilation of pen caps intended for children up to 14 years of age. Of course, contravention of those regulations is a criminal offence and local authority trading standards officers have the power to remove unsafe products from the market and to bring prosecutions. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will convey his concerns to the relevant authorities in Leicester, and I will also draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.
Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North): Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement or a debate on the consultation paper on tourism that the Department of National Heritage issued this week? Does he agree that it emphasises the Government's commitment to the tourism industry and that it marks the beginning of a new drive for higher standards, quality and real value for money in tourism and leisure, which is Britain's fastest growing industry?
Mr. Newton: I am aware of the document that was published this week, which contains an action plan for a variety of bodies and which will assist the industry to take advantage of the opportunities that the growing market in tourism represents. I share my hon. Friend's hope that full advantage will be taken of those opportunities.
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East): The Minister will be aware that yesterday the Government suffered a humiliating defeat in the Committee that considered the Local Government (Compensation for Redundancy or Premature Retirement on Reorganisation) (Scotland) Regulations 1995--the Government's inadequate
Column 1207compensation scheme for local government workers who were made redundant as a result of local government reorganisation in Scotland.
Technically, the Government can simply ignore that defeat because the statutory instrument was introduced under the negative resolution procedure. However, past Governments who have been defeated in that way have recognised their obligation to take account of the defeat by reintroducing the statutory instrument for further consideration by the whole House. Will the Minister assure hon. Members that he will continue that honourable tradition, recognise the fact that his Government have been defeated, and give the House a second chance to consider that important measure?
Mr. Newton: The only possible response to the hon. Gentleman is: nice try. As I understand it, the humiliation was the Opposition's. All but two Opposition Members on the Committee failed to turn up to debate the matter, and the rest magically arrived only just in time to vote when the debate had finished. I am sure that that brought joy to the heart of the shadow deputy Chief Whip, but others may make their own judgments.
I also understand that, during the last Labour Administration, a similar incident occurred on four occasions--which shows that my hon. Friends are just as good at their job as the shadow deputy Chief Whip is at his--none of which resulted in matters being referred back to the Floor of the House.