Monday 27 March----Progress on remaining stages of the Disability Discrimination Bill.
Tuesday 28 March----Conclusion of remaining stages of the Disability Discrimination Bill.
Wednesday 29 March----Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Opposition Day (10th allotted day)
There will be debate entitled "The Impact of Education Cuts on Standards and Opportunity" on an Opposition Motion.
Ways and Means Resolution relating to the Atomic Energy Authority Bill.
Motion relating to the National Health Service (Charges for Drugs and Appliances) Amendment Regulations.
Thursday 30 March----Motion on the Contracting (Functions in Relation to the Registration of Companies) Order.
Motion on the local Government Finance Special Grant Report (No. 13).
Debate on tourism on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Friday 31 March----Private Members' Bills.
The House may also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 29 March as follows: European Standing Committee A, European Community Document 6495/94, relating to Interoperability of High Speed Trains; European Standing Committee B, European Community Document 8076/94 relating to Protection of the Community's Financial Interests.
In the following week, on Monday 3 April and Tuesday 4 April, I anticipate progress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill, bringing those to a conclusion on Tuesday 4 April. I cannot yet give details beyond that, but I harbour hopes of organising business in a way which would enable the House to rise for the recess at the close of business on Wednesday 5 April.
[Wednesday 29 March:
European Standing Committee A--Relevant European Community documents: 6495/94, relating to Interoperability of High Speed Trains. Relevant European Legislation Committee report: HC 48-xxviii (1993-94) and HC 70-xi (1994-95).
European Standing Committee B--Relevant European Community documents: 8076/94, relating to Protection of the Community's Financial Interests. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: HC 48-xxviii (1993-94).]
Mrs. Taylor: I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. Will he confirm that the morning sitting on Wednesday 5 April will take the format of the traditional motion for the spring Adjournment, so that hon. Members may raise any appropriate issue without giving notice to
Column 488the Speaker, and that it will be followed by three half-hour Adjournment debates, for which hon. Members must apply in the usual way?
Can the Leader of the House tell us yet what he intends to do about the recommendations of the first special report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which was first published on 7 March?
In view of the decisions taken today by the magistrates court in Croydon, and of what happened to Mr. Cantona this morning, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether we may be able to have a debate in the near future on consistency in sentencing in magistrates courts? It would not involve matters that are sub judice if we discussed consistency.
Can the Leader of the House tell us when we can expect a debate in Government time on the national health service? If we cannot have an immediate debate, will he guarantee that there will be a debate in advance of any further moves to allow certain private companies, some of which contribute to the Conservative party, to take over the running of NHS hospitals?
Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is an urgent need for a debate and for answers from Ministers on what they intend to do about the electricity industry, and especially about the regulator's ability to protect the interests of consumers? That is necessary not least because of the regulator's proposal, following the windfall profits being made by the regional electricity companies, that consumers should receive some benefit from those profits--a suggestion that has been blocked by some of the fat cats in those companies.
Surely the Government have some responsibility in the matter, because they framed the legislation and they rigged the sale to ensure substantial profits. Will the Leader of the House therefore ensure that Parliament has the chance to be the voice of the consumer?
Mr. Newton: I shall take those questions in reverse order. On the electricity issue, I simply say that there is no doubt that consumers have benefited from the downward pressure on prices already created by privatisation, in that industry and in several others. Of course I take note of the hon. Lady's request concerning the NHS, but I wish that she had acknowledged that the private finance initiative in the NHS and in other spheres was essentially designed to bring additional resources somewhere where we all want to see them generated, whenever and however that can be done.
As for the sentence on Mr. Cantona in Croydon, the hon. Lady will understand that I would not think it appropriate to comment on such a matter from the Dispatch Box, but I shall certainly bring her comments to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
I am still considering how best to proceed on Members' interests, and I hope to have further discussions through the usual channels. I hope that we shall be able to deal with the issue, if not before the Easter recess--I still would not entirely rule out that
The answer to the hon. Lady's question about the Wednesday morning debates on 5 April is strictly a matter for you, Madam Speaker, but I think that I probably have your tacit authorisation to say that what the hon. Lady
Column 489said was right. For the first three hours, the format will be essentially the same as for the traditional recess motion, and people can raise what they like without my having to try to answer it all at the end. That will be followed by three half-hour Adjournment debates under the normal ballot arrangements.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North): My right hon. Friend will have heard the very reassuring remarks by our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister with regard to our border controls. Was my right hon. Friend in effect saying that he would guarantee that the United Kingdom would retain its border controls? If not, could we clarify the issue by having a debate next week?
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Is the Leader of the House aware that, in many parts of the House, there is growing concern about the method and timing of the way in which the House considers controversial regulations? I draw his attention in particular to the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995, which are due to come into force in a few days' time.
Those regulations will introduce the Meat Hygiene Service, which represents an extremely controversial change from the present arrangements and is causing great concern throughout the country, to the agricultural industry, to the abattoirs themselves and, most noticeably, to those who think that the removal from local democratic control will produce a new and powerful quango.
May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 845, and the amendment thereto, which refers to a controversial appointment to the new service?
[ That this House believes that the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995, at present laid before the House, are primarily intended to empower the Meat Hygiene Service to take over from local authorities the responsibility for meat inspection and the supervision of hygiene in slaughterhouses; takes note that through the ability of the Meat Hygiene Service to set the level of fees, a risk-free business is proposed to be established with a turnover of £40 million extracted from the meat industry and wonders about the interests involved; questions also whether the regulations are seen as a convenient device for enforcing rationalisation in the industry which would not be to the long term benefit either of the consumer or of standards of hygiene in the industry; strongly objects to their being laid before the House, despite a lengthy period of gestation, with such short notice before the intended start of operations by the Meat Hygiene Service, which it regards as a contempt of the House; can see no service advantage in the proposed system over the service currently provided by the local authorities; and therefore demands that the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995, be not enacted but that local authorities should retain their powers and responsibilities through the application of the Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1992. ]
Column 490the hon. Gentleman raised, there is, of course, a prayer down on this matter that will be given consideration through the usual channels.
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West): Is there any possibility in the near future of having a full-scale debate on the rights- -and, even more importantly, the duties--of the citizen? Some of us are perplexed about the policies being advocated by the Leader of the Opposition, as the poor fellow can only utter sound bites in the newspapers.
Mr. Newton: I am not sure whether "puzzled" is the right word, but I am increasingly struck by the fact that the rather windy words which have been used appear to be nothing more than a cloak for an old-fashioned increase in state intervention into everybody's lives, and that is what people do not want.
Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley): Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning the sneaky and underhand way in which the Ministry of Defence has announced the closure of RAF Finningley? Will he arrange as a matter of urgency for a debate to be held before the Easter recess on the RAF and the implications of that decision?
Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman will realise that I cannot promise such a debate before the Easter recess, but at some stage we will have the annual debate on the RAF, which is one of the service days that has not yet taken place. As to the rest of the hon. Gentleman's question, I would not for a moment accept his description of any action of any of my right hon. Friends, but nevertheless I shall draw his feelings to their attention.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): Could we have a debate next week on truancy from schools? This morning, the Leader of the Opposition told the public that there were Conservative laws for dealing with truancy, but he did not tell the public why Labour councils have not used them effectively.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to a story by Anthony Bevins which appeared in last Sunday's The Observer and which was headlined "Three-day week for idle MPs"? I for one deeply resent that sort of comment. [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] Could we have a debate on the work load of Members of Parliament, particularly in light of boundary changes which are adding about 30 per cent. to my work load, with no discussion about whether additional resources will be made available to Members to deal with the changes? We do not need lectures from journalists--we need to tell the truth in the House.
Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman will have gathered that, unlike some of the questions which he has asked, that one elicited a good deal of sympathy from Members in all parts of the House. It should be underlined that Members of Parliament are now able to give more time to their duties in many other ways, including those duties in their constituencies to which both they and their constituents attach importance.
Column 491my right hon. Friend referred to the special report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests. He stated, as he did last week, that the matter should be dealt with by the usual channels, which seem to be extremely slow. Can he assure us that the matter will be brought before the House on a firm resolution which will lead to a solution, and which will allow a Select Committee of the House to continue its work, even after a delay of two months?
Mr. Newton: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. One of the things that we are concerned about is that we should, if possible, deal with the matters not simply on an ad hoc basis, but on a basis that gives a secure foundation for the future work of any Select Committee.
Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport): Is the Leader of the House aware of proposals to change the fostering regulations, which are currently being discussed in the Department of Health and will have serious consequences for local authorities and foster parents? Will he assure me that time will be made available for a debate on those changes, and that they will not go through without a debate?
Mr. Newton: I cannot give an assurance off the cuff, not least because, in a former ministerial incarnation, I was probably responsible for earlier arrangements on that matter. It is a subject in which I am personally interested, and I shall look carefully at the point that the hon. Lady raised.
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the conference on the nuclear proliferation treaty will begin on 17 April. If we cannot have a debate on nuclear issues before the Easter recess, may we have one as soon as possible after the recess?
[ That this House notes that the first international religious conference on the problem of pornography, Protecting our Children's Future, was held in Manila between 17th and 20th January; acknowledges the declaration drawn up by delegates; agrees that pornography has become a major economic force that requires international solutions; believes that the important values of free speech and increased international communication are not compromised by ensuring that children, women and men are protected from sexual exploitation; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to bring United Kingdom law into line with Sweden, Germany, France, Norway, Australia and the USA so that British citizens who commit child sex offences abroad can be prosecuted under British law and to initiate an international law enforcement initiative to combat the global trade in computer pornography via the Internet. ]
Will the Leader of the House have a chat with the Home Secretary to see whether legislation can be introduced to protect young people abroad from marauders who go there from this country? If he cannot introduce legislation before Easter, may I press him to do so shortly after Easter to give hope to others?
Column 492also be aware that we have recently taken action in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to strengthen further our controls on pornography, but of course I shall draw his point to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the main railway line which currently carries all channel tunnel expresses runs through my constituency? Does he therefore understand my constituents' concern about the noise and vibrations affecting them and their properties? Will he find an early opportunity for a debate on that subject, and on questions of compensation?
Mr. Newton: Once again, I am afraid that I cannot promise an early debate of precisely the kind that my hon. Friend seeks, but he will be aware that progress is being made in the Private Bill Committee on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill, which will in due course lead to discussion on the Floor of the House. Although perhaps not in the near term, at some stage that will provide a further opportunity to discuss those matters.
Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on today's press reports that the Department of Social Security is to spend £200 million on a computerised identity database to be run by a private company and to include details of income and work history? That is despite a warning by the Data Protection Registrar last year that voluntary schemes could become compulsory by stealth. If the Home Secretary wants an identity card scheme, should he not come to the House to argue his case, rather than get the Department of Social Security to bring one in by the back door?
Mr. Newton: There are three points to make: first, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, as is well known, will produce a Green Paper on those matters; secondly, any action by the DSS is certainly not directed to producing an identity card "by the back door"; thirdly, any action by the DSS is directed towards something which everyone in the House should support, which is the prevention of fraud.
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford): May we have an urgent debate on the financial state of Lambeth council, given that it has domestic rates arrears of £13 million, community charge arrears of £85 million, and council tax arrears of £29 million? Would not such a debate enable the Opposition to apologise to the people of Lambeth for years of Labour misrule?
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): The Leader of the House has already had about 10 requests for debates of some kind, most of which he has been unable to accept, yet a few moments ago he said that the House would rise a day early for the Easter holiday. Would it not make more sense to sit on that day, which should be used to discuss the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire,
Column 493North-East (Mr. Barnes), so that, instead of hon. Members going off on their holidays, we could help 6 million disabled people?
Mr. Newton: Whether or not the House sat on the Thursday, it would not be a private Members' day. I have said several times that I have no plans for changing the usual arrangements for dealing with private Members' Bills.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Leader of the House be able to inform the House when the Environment Bill will come before it? Is he aware that many of us look forward to that Bill because of the way in which it affects national parks, and we seriously want that Bill to be enacted, so that there will also be more local representation on national parks?
Mr. Newton: First, I agree with my hon. Friend that it is an excellent Bill. Secondly, in direct answer to his question, I would expect to take the Second Reading of the Bill shortly after the Easter recess.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Was not the law made an ass of yesterday in Newport, East, the neighbouring constituency to mine, when the remarkable decision was taken to halt a trial on the sole grounds that the jurors did not understand the details of that financial case? Is that not an open invitation to fraudsters to commit crimes, as long as they are sufficiently complicated not to be understood by the juries? Do we not need an urgent debate to institute courts that have specialist jurors who will understand financial complexities of that type?
Mr. Newton: Madam Speaker, unless you are going to seek to prevent me from answering, I shall say that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has asked the Director of Public Prosecutions for a full and urgent report on what the hon. Gentleman describes. I might add, however, that, although the jury has been discharged and two defendants have been acquitted, proceedings in relation to five other defendants have not been concluded.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye): May I ask my right hon. Friend for an early debate on child care, so that we can discover how the Opposition reconcile their proposition that child benefit should be taxed at 40 per cent. with the fact that they are simultaneously encouraging the belief that there will be tax relief for nannies?
Mr. Newton: I receive an amazing number of requests to try to explain the contortions, the convolutions and the inexplicable nature of some policy pronouncements by the Labour party. I am afraid that that task is beyond me, but I hope that my hon. Friend's question elicits an answer from those who repeatedly think up those policies.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West): May we have an early debate on immigration and asylum policy in a United Kingdom and European Union context, which would give Ministers an opportunity to explain why Mr. Zia Rahman Farouki, who preaches hatred of Shi'ite Muslims, has been allowed to visit this country, when constituents are denied visits by relatives and friends on frequent occasions? It would also provide an opportunity for the Home Secretary to confirm or deny that he plans
Column 494a new immigration Bill, which many of us fear will be used as a race card before the local elections and forthcoming general election.
Mr. Newton: I am not in a position to comment about the particular case that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate about facilities at the House at weekends? Is my right hon. Friend aware that last weekend, for example, the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), who speaks for the Labour party on energy, had to go to Twickenham to discuss energy policy with British Gas and that, of course, he therefore had to endure the sort of executive perks and privileges that Opposition Members have denounced, and that he also had to go as a guest of Mr. Cedric Brown, whom hon. Members have also denounced?
Will my right hon. Friend spare the hon. Member for Clackmannan and other Opposition Members similar ordeals in future, and make facilities available for them here?
Mr. Newton: I think that the appropriate answer in House of Commons terms is to say that I shall bring that request to the attention of the Administration Committee, or something of that type, but I strongly suspect that, however many facilities were available, the one most likely to use them would be the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who appears never to want to go anywhere else.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Last week, the Leader of the House said that he would reflect on issues arising out of my question to the Prime Minister in relation to Lockerbie. Before the recess, could there be any facility for the Crown Office, on which more and more responsibility is being placed by the Foreign Office and Downing street, at least to make some kind of a statement in a democratic forum?
Mr. Newton: I shall seek to come back to the hon. Gentleman about what I said last week, and I regret that I have not yet been able to do so. I certainly cannot give him the undertaking that he seeks now.
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester): Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the relative powers and responsibilities of central and local government? Does he agree that such a debate would enable us to expose the simple truth that the Labour party's proposals for regional assemblies would rob local authorities of their power? Such a debate would also enable me to express the abhorrence of the people of Worcestershire of the prospect of being ruled by Birmingham.
Mr. Newton: My hon. Friend expresses, more eloquently than I did, a point that I made from the Dispatch Box last week. I agree with my hon. Friend's remarks, and should it be possible to provide time for such a debate, I shall be glad to do so.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to reports in today's newspapers that the Government are considering relaxing the rules on the number of roadside information signs, in view of the fears expressed by the Automobile
Column 495Association, environmental groups and others about the safety of drivers who are confused by the number of signs? Could he ask the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House at an early date?
Mr. Newton: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is due to be here to answer questions on one of the days embraced by the business statement--Monday 3 April. That may provide an opportunity for my right hon. Friend to give a statement. It should be said, in fairness, that motorists sometimes encounter difficulties because of the absence of signs to help them to get where they want to go.
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam): Will my right hon. Friend consider an urgent debate on grant-maintained schools? Is he aware that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) yesterday addressed a conference of the grant-maintained heads of England and Wales, and threw them into total confusion? They have no idea what the Labour party stands for. More than that, he said that he would remove their independence, by using the expression "enhanced accountability." That can only mean a return to town hall tyranny and control.
Mr. Newton: I certainly have the clear impression that the hon. Member for Brightside further increased the number of bodies who are in a state of confusion about Labour party policy--that appears to include the Labour party itself.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): As the Disability Discrimination Bill comes back before us next Monday and Tuesday, would the Leader of the House look at what is happening to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, a competing Bill which is being held up by a series of filibusters in Standing Committee C so that it cannot make progress? Hon. Members should have a chance to decide between the principles contained in the two Bills. It is the duty of the Leader of the House to ensure that that happens. Could the Bill be dealt with in a Committee of the whole House if room cannot be found for it in Standing Committee C?
Mr. Newton: I cannot add to what I have said on numerous occasions in the past few weeks about my plans for the handling of private Members' Bills. We should proceed normally. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's description of proceedings in the relevant Standing Committee, which is dealing with a number of other important private Members' Bills.
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): The Leader of the House will recall that two weeks ago I asked for an early debate on the Meat Hygiene Service, since when my right hon. Friend has acknowledged that the official Opposition have tabled a prayer against the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995. My right hon. Friend has also acknowledged the existence of early-day motion 845, which has been signed by more than 50 hon. Members.
[ That this House believes that the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995, at present laid before the House, are primarily intended to empower the Meat Hygiene Service to take over from local authorities the responsibility for meat inspection and the supervision of hygiene in slaughterhouses; takes note that through the ability of the Meat Hygiene Service to set the level of fees, a risk-free business is proposed to be established with a
Column 496turnover of £40 million extracted from the meat industry and wonders about the interests involved; questions also whether the regulations are seen as a convenient device for enforcing rationalisation in the industry which would not be to the long term benefit either of the consumer or of standards of hygiene in the industry; strongly objects to their being laid before the House, despite a lengthy period of gestation, with such short notice before the intended start of operations by the Meat Hygiene Service, which it regards as a contempt of the House; can see no service advantage in the proposed system over the service currently provided by the local authorities; and therefore demands that the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995, be not enacted but that local authorities should retain their powers and responsibilities through the application of the Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1992. ]
Does not my right hon. Friend realise what serious problems are building up in the abattoir sector? Bishop's Castle abattoir in my constituency has been notified this week that the charge that it will have to pay for veterinary inspections is £60 per hour when most other abattoirs have been advised that their charge per hour will be £33.71. That is a serious problem, which the House should debate. The Leader of the House is well aware of my view that the statutory instrument was brought to the House far too late--barely three weeks before coming into force--while the Government have, for three years, known what they want to do. That shows a contempt of the House, and it should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.
Mr. Newton: I make two points. First, I cannot add to what I said earlier about the prayer that has been tabled concerning some of the regulations. Secondly, I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is looking very carefully at such representations as my hon. Friend has made.
Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South): Will the Leader of the House arrange time for a debate next week, or as soon as possible thereafter, to discuss the new Cabinet Committee which has been formed to co-ordinate and present Government policy? I believe that it is probably more to do with co -ordinating and presenting Tory party policy in order to improve its standing at the next election, and there may be a conflict of interest in respect of the civil servants who have been appointed to serve that Committee. In order to ensure that the integrity of the civil service is not compromised and that taxpayers' money is not used for political purposes, will the Leader of the House arrange to have a debate on the subject as a matter of urgency?
I make two other points. First, such a committee would not have been established if the Cabinet Secretary had thought that it was outside the rules in any way. Secondly, as we have Cabinet Committees to examine Government policies in a variety of areas, it seems entirely reasonable to have a Cabinet Committee which is concerned with Government policy as a whole.